10 Jun 2013

Iran elections: should we expect another Ahmadinejad?

With controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forced to step down after eight years of power, will his successor take Iran in a new direction, or can the country expect more of the same?

Under the Iranian constitution, a president can only serve two terms – meaning Ahmadinejad, vocal scourge of UN meetings and one of the most controversial Middle East leaders, will make way for a new president following Friday’s elections.

Eight candidates were approved by the Guardian Council to run for the role as Iran’s chief executive – but the list was on Monday narrowed down to seven, and then reduced further to six on Tuesday.

On Monday Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a 68-year-old former parliament speaker with strong ties to Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei, said he would not contest the election.

This leaves seven potential candidates to take over, all with varying careers, strengths of ideology and pasts. If candidates do not poll enough of the vote in the first round, the election will go to a second round of voting.

So who are the candidates?

Saeed Jalili

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator has the support of ultra-conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who was previously seen as Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor.

He is one of the frontrunners and is seen as a favourite of Iran’s spiritual leader Khamenei, but came under fire from other candidates in a televised debate shown last Friday because of his lack of perceived progress in nuclear discussions with other world powers.

Jalili is one of the more hardline candidates running for election, and has issued statements on the role of women, saying the most important place for a woman is “at home”.

Jalili lost a leg in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and has been hailed by his supporters as a “living martyr”.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

Another frontrunner in the Iranian presidential elections is Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, formerly commander of Iran’s air force, a former head of police, and currently mayor of Tehran.

He is also the candidate with perhaps the most question marks over his human rights record. According to various human rights charities, Qalibaf has admitted taking a direct role in repressing protests.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says it has obtained a two-hour recording, of Qalibaf in which he allegedly brags about his role in suppressing student demonstrations in 1999, 2003 and following the last presidential elections in 2009.

According to the group Qalibaf was heard to say he had been “carrying out the beatings on street level” in the 1999 demonstrations, had persuaded the National Security Council to authorise police to fire on protesters in the 2003 protests, and had earned the respect of official in the security services for how he handled demonstrations following the last elections in 2009.

Qalibaf is running for election on a vow to repair Iran’s ailing economy “in two years”. He has been critical of Ahmadinejad’s regime, but is loyal to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

He is known in Tehran for making the city a greener place, by planting trees, and for building major road projects in order to combat congestion.

Hassan Rouhani

Rouhani is considered to be the most prominent “moderate” candidate running for election – though question marks were raised on Monday over whether or not he would be able to run at all.

Media reports in Syria suggested that Rouhani could be set to be disqualified from the race, for allegedly revealing classified information on Iran’s nuclear programme during a televised debate.

Iran’s Guardian Council has denied such reports, and said it was not considering barring any candidate.

British-educated Rouhani was Jalili’s predecessor as nuclear negotiator, and is Khamenei’s representative at the Supreme National Security Council.

In television debates he has criticised Mr Ahmadinejad for economic failings and has bemoaned Iran’s stifling “security atmosphere”.

Ali Akbar Velayati

Velayati, a top adviser to Khamenei on international affairs, was given a boost on Sunday when the ultra-conservative clerical group Qom Seminary Scholars Association gave him their backing. The group is one of the two leading clerical groups in the city of Qom, the centre of Iran’s religious teachings.

He has pledged to repair international relations if elected, and was strongly critical of Jalili in his nuclear negotiations role – especially over Jalili’s agreement that the west lift modest sanctions in exchange for Iran stopping its uranium enrichment to 20 per cent process.

Velayati is a US trained pediatrician, and was foreign minister for 16 years until the late 1990s.

Mohsen Rezai

Rezai, who holds a PhD in economics, has been critical of Ahmadinejad’s “mismanagement” of Iran’s economy, and has vowed to curb inflation and unemployment.

The former head of the Revolutionary Guards said during a campaign advertisement: “Our country is one of the most powerful in the region and our missiles can reach thousands of kilometres but we’re in need of chicken meat.”

He has been critical of the “US and its allies” for imposing sanctions on Iran, which are in part responsible for the country’s economic downward spiral, and has said Iran needs to strengthen its economy in order to render such sanctions ineffective. This would, he says, bring the US back to the negotiating table over Iran’s nuclear plans.

Rezai is also no stranger to controversy. He has been charged by Argentine courts over a 1994 “anti-Jewish” bombing that killed 85 people.

Mohammad Reza Aref

Aref is the other of two “more moderate” candidates. On Tuesday he pulled out of the race for the presidency, a move that it is believed is aimed at boosting the chances of the more popular moderate candidate Rohani.

He had said his main policy would be creating an “oil free economy” – removing Iran’s dependency on its oil industry.

Aref, 61, was vice president under more moderate leader Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. He is also a former Tehran University chancellor.

Mohammad Gharazi

The 71-year-old was a surprise candidate approved by the Guardian Council, having been quiet on the political stage since serving in parliament as oil minister in the 1980s.

He is considered to be conseravtive, and has protrayed himself as a steady-handed technocrat. He has said he will form an “anti-inflation” government.

He has also said he will not campaign for election, because his executive experience is enough for him to run the country.