June 10, 2024

Iran’s Presidential Election: Unexpected Qualification of Masoud Pezeshkian

Week of June 10, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran’s Ministry of Interior has officially announced the qualified candidates for the upcoming presidential election, propelling the election campaigns into full swing with the approval of six contenders by the Guardian Council.

The candidates confirmed to compete include Masoud Pezeshkian, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Saeed Jalili, Alireza Zakani, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. This election has been precipitated by the untimely demise of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, necessitating an earlier-than-scheduled vote.

Among the disqualified are prominent figures such as former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, former Vice President under Hassan Rouhani, Eshaq Jahangiri, and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Scheduled for June 28, this accelerated election comes after 80 potential candidates registered, though some withdrew before final approvals. Following Raisi’s death, the Islamic Republic Constitution mandates that a new president be elected within 50 days.  Following confirmation by the Guardian Council, campaign activities for the approved candidates can now begin, with the state broadcasting’s election headquarters advising  confirmed candidates to commence preparations for their recorded programs.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of this election so far is the approval of Masoud Pezeshkian. Denied by the Guardian Council in the last elections, his approval this round has sparked various analyses. Many believe the Islamic Republic may be attempting to address its legitimacy crisis, particularly after the widespread Woman, Life, Freedom movement, by seeking to promote an election with extensive public participation and inter-factional competition. Pezeshkian has openly criticized government crackdowns, notably decrying the treatment of Mahsa (Jina) Amini on state television: “We have created problems for the people, and we must respond, not beat up that girl (Mahsa) and hand over her body.”

Dr. Pezeshkian, a heart specialist with a strong base among Azeris and Turkic speakers in Iran, and who speaks Kurdish fluently, has garnered respect for his integrity, with no financial misconduct allegations. His candidacy is also poised to potentially attract Sunni votes, pending endorsements from Sunni leaders like Molavi Abdul Hamid and Kak Hassan Amini. 

In response to the candidate approvals, former lawmaker and reformist executive committee member Mahmoud Sadeghi revealed plans for an “emergency executive committee meeting” by the Reformist Front to strategize on candidate support, according to Jamaran website. In addition to Pezeskhian, the Reformist Front had nominated Abbas Akhundi, Eshaq Jahangiri, and Masoud Pezeshkian, who did not qualify. 

Pezeshkian’s approval not only secures the likely support of the Reformist Front but also may mobilize individual reformist figures. Renowned reformist analyst Abbas Abdi has already called on all reformists to rally behind Pezeshkian. Despite all these factors, Masoud Pezeshkian faces a challenging task in convincing the younger generation and many others who have completely lost hope in improving conditions without the collapse of the Islamic Republic regime.

Sadegh Mahsouli, Secretary-General of the Stability Front, disclosed to Fars News Agency that a final decision on supporting a preferred candidate would follow a series of interviews and discussions, emphasizing the need for “further clarifications and responses for more precision.” Established in 2011, the Stability Front of the Islamic Revolution consists largely of former ministers from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration and aligns closely with the conservative views of Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a radical cleric who died in 2021.

Additionally, the unexpected approval of Mostafa Pourmohammadi, initially disqualified in the 2022 Assembly of Experts election but later approved following an appeal, was noteworthy. He was a member of the execution committee in 1988 alongside Ebrahim Raisi, but, unlike Raisi, Pourmohammadi does not share the same political stature or familial connections and represents the traditional conservative Society of Clerics.

This election cycle also saw the disqualification of ministers from Raisi’s administration who could have continued his policy lineage, like Mehrdad Bazrpash, Minister of Roads, and Mohammad Mehdi Esmailei, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, despite backing from some government figures and Raisi’s deputies.

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