Ebrahim Raisi at a campaign rally in 2017: replacing him will rely on the supreme leader

Lining up to be president

Iran’s Islamic regime will ensure that the right man is ‘elected’ to replace Ibrahim Raisi. Yassamine Mather reports on what is for the moment a crowded field of candidates

Given the litany of bad endings for all former heads of state in Iran’s Islamic Republic, it is strange to see how many politicians have gone to the ministry of interior in the last few days to put forward their names to be the next Iranian president. Following the sudden death of Ibrahim Raisi the election is to be held later this month,

So far there are no surprises. For most of those who have entered their names this is not the first time they have tried their luck. Many know they stand no chance of even getting onto the ballot paper. The process is complicated. The initial step for all candidates is getting the approval of the Guardian Council and, as a result, most of the 40-plus candidates will fall at this stage.

However, some of this week’s photo opportunities inside and outside the ministry have some value and it seems that token ‘reformists’ may be allowed to run. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei aims to ensure a larger voter turnout. In the latest round of mid-term parliamentary elections, in major cities such as Tehran, only seven percent of those eligible voted. This was considered humiliating for the regime and every effort is being made to avoid a similar low turnout in the presidential election.

On the conservative side, one of the most high-profile candidates is Saeed Jalili, who is close to the security services and a former nuclear negotiator. Jalili was down to contest the 2021 presidential election, but withdrew in favour of Raisi.

Several parliamentarians and former ministers have also registered, while former vice-president Ishaq Jahangiri, one of the founders of the ‘reformist’ group, Kargozaran Sazandegi, only went to the ministry of the interior on the last day of registration. He is the longest-serving parliamentary speaker and first deputy to ‘reformist’ president Hassan Rouhani. Presumably he is the faction’s preferred candidate.

Jaharngiri’s campaign has already started on social media and, at a press conference after his registration, he said: “I am a reformist, but I think nationally.” This in response to a question about whether he is a candidate for the Reformist Front. He added: “It is clear that the country is in a complicated and difficult situation. All the various achievements have not been able to create the feeling of growth and development.”

Iran’s ‘reformists’ present themselves as the ‘left’ and I am always amused by this representation. They are as pro-market and pro-capitalist as the conservative factions of the Islamic Republic.

Ali Larijani, who is considered more of a political pragmatist than those in the hard-line camp and might also have the support of some ‘reformists’, has also officially registered as a candidate (despite being disqualified by the Guardian Council in the 2021 presidential election). Although he remains a faithful ally of the supreme leader, the fact that he was not allowed to stand last time was presumably because the supreme leader was so keen on ensuring Raisi’s victory that he did not want any serious contenders in the race. Larijani’s registration this time around has led to speculation that Khamenei has already given him the nod to widen the scope of candidates permitted to run.

After filing his nomination on Friday, Larijani told reporters that “solving the issue of sanctions” will figure prominently amongst his priorities.

On June 2 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who served as Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, added his name to the list. His allegedly fraudulent election in 2009 as a favourite of Khamenei led to major protests, known as the Green movement. However, in the latter years of his presidency, he fell out of favour with the country’s top leadership and was disqualified in both the 2017 and 2021 presidential elections.

After filing his nomination, Ahmadinejad said the country’s problems could be solved by making the “maximum use of available capacities”, adding that he was joining the race again “at the request of the people”.

At least two women have also registered: Hamida Zarabadi, a ‘reformist’ representative in the majles (parliament), and Zohreh Elahian, a former MP (she announced that her election slogan would be “Healthy government, healthy economy and healthy society!”). According to the constitution of the religious state, the president should be a rajol - the Arabic term for ‘man’, Despite that, in recent years women have been allowed to sign up as candidates - one assumes the clerics are confident that the Guardian Council will eliminate them!

Conspiracy theories

All eyes are on who will eventually replace the supreme leader and the death of Raisi has raised a lot of speculation, as well as conspiracy theories. According to one such rumour, an alliance between Mojtaba Khamenei (son of the supreme leader) and former Revolutionary Guards (IRCG) commander Mohammad Qalibaf with the support of one faction of the IRGC, planned and executed the helicopter ‘accident’ that killed Raisi and paved the way for Mojtaba Khamenei to become a front runner to replace his father.

I find this is unlikely, Mojtaba is by all accounts a junior cleric, better known for his security activities and suppressing protests. Khamenei senior has ruled out such a scenario, mainly because of the low clerical rank of his son and accusations of ‘hereditary’ rule. Initially, the constitution of the Islamic Republic, stipulated that the supreme leader, the rahbar, should be the highest-ranking cleric in Shia Islam. In 1989, the constitution was amended and simply asked for Islamic “scholarship” to allow the supreme leader to be a lower-ranking cleric.

According to article 110 of the constitution:

The said leader will have the following responsibilities:

  •  determining the political direction of the government (in consultation with an advisory committee);
  •  overseeing the correct implementation of the general policies of the government;
  •  calling referenda;
  •  commanding the armed forces;
  •  declaring war, peace and the mobilisation of armed forces;
  •  appointing and dismissing six of the 12 jurists of the Council of Guardians; the head of the judiciary; the head of the state broadcasting agency; the chief of the general staff; the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); the highest commanders of the armed forces and security bodies;
  •  facilitating relations between the legislative, executive and judicial branches;
  •  resolving issues in governance that cannot be settled through ordinary means;
  •  approving the appointment of the president after the presidential election;
  •  dismissing the president after a judicial conviction or legislative vote of no confidence;
  •  pardoning or commuting sentences upon recommendation of the head of the judiciary.

Very democratic!


Given the current genocide in Gaza, it is worthwhile reporting a recent spat between Iran’s supreme leader and Mahmood Abbas, head of the Palestine Authority, regarding the Al Aqsa operation of October 7 2023.

On June 3, in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of previous supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, Khamenei told the gathered crowd:

Operation Storm Al-Aqsa, which happened on October 7 last year, was exactly what the region needed ... The explanation is that a comprehensive plan was designed by the United States, the Zionist elements and their followers, and some governments in the region. Based on this plan, the relations and equations of the region were supposed to change. The relationship of the Zionist regime with the governments of the region was going to be adjusted, leading to the domination of the Zionist regime over the politics and economy of the entire west Asian region, but also the entire Islamic world.

Khamenei was referring to the normalisation of Israel’s relations with several Islamic countries, based on the Abraham Pact and the attempt to establish political relations with Saudi Arabia.

He continued:

At such a critical moment, the Al-Aqsa storm attack began and destroyed all the plans of the enemy ... with the situation that has happened in the past eight months, there is not much hope that they will be able to revive this plan.

Apparently the aim has been to “victimise the Palestinians” and prevent “the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. We do not need wars that do not serve our desire for freedom and independence.”

Khamenei’s comments are rightly ridiculed by those who have followed Iran’s empty rhetoric about Palestine. Despite decades of propaganda, Iran and its closest allies have done very little to support the Palestinians in their hour of need. The supreme leader praises student protests in the US and elsewhere, yet in Iran, we have not witnessed a single sizeable demonstration organised by the state in support of Gaza - and, of course, independent demonstrations are banned and anyone organising such protests will end up in prison. No wonder frustrated students have used social media to point out the hypocrisy of the supreme leader.

Of course, Abbas - the man who has presided over a corrupt, ineffective Fatah-led Palestine Authority, a man whose security forces have cooperated with the Zionist regime’s occupation of the West Bank - is in no position to claim to represent the views of the Palestinians.

The spat between these two reactionaries demonstrates the challenges faced by Palestinians at a time when they are suffering genocide in Gaza.