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Iranian Election Candidates Vie for Supreme Leader’s Favor, Not Public Approval

Three-minute read

With just about two weeks left until Iran’s sham presidential elections, the candidates sanctioned by the Guardian Council are eschewing policy debates and extravagant electoral pledges. Instead, they are competing to curry favor with the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, each endeavoring to demonstrate their loyalty and efficacy to him. In the aftermath of Khamenei’s speech following Ebrahim Raisi’s death, during which he extensively praised Raisi and his contributions, the candidates are striving to present themselves as heirs to Raisi’s legacy.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Speaker of Parliament, recently appeared on state television, highlighting his contributions to the regime’s military advancements. “When I had the opportunity to serve in the Air Force, my utmost effort was to bring about a specific and clear transformation there,” Ghalibaf said. “If I were to specify, one transformation in the Air Force of the Revolutionary Guard was in the missile field. The missile domain involved advanced technologies, and during that period, we laid the foundations for it.”

Ghalibaf claimed that the underground missile city, discovered years later, was a testament to his era’s engineering and managerial prowess, describing it as a “technical and managerial masterpiece.”

Masoud Pezeshkian, perceived by some Western observers as a potential reformist, underscored his unwavering support for Khamenei and commitment to continuing Raisi’s policies.

Speaking on state TV on June 10, Pezeshkian said, “What I am telling you is that we must continue on the same path; we are not here to change the direction. People and those living with us must know that there is legislative stability in the country… When [administrations] come and keep changing directions and strategies every day, issuing new directives… naturally, we won’t achieve the goals. We won’t reach the growth that the Supreme Leader envisions.”

Pezeshkian dodged a direct response to the sensitive FATF issue, saying, “I don’t care whether we accept the FATF or not. At least, let’s have an internal FATF to know where the money goes. We lack transparency in money circulation. There are laws, but we don’t implement them. No need to rewrite laws.”

Reflecting on these statements, the state-run website Shargh expressed disillusionment with Pezeshkian, writing on June 11, “Reforms from Pezeshkian’s perspective mean continuation, not a fresh start. There is no sign of political confrontation, and it aligns with the core elements of the state.”

Rooting for Pezeshkian, Mahmoud Vaezi, Chief of Staff in Hassan Rouhani’s government, also stated, “Among the election candidates, Masoud Pezeshkian is most similar to Raisi.”

Meanwhile, state-run website Asr Iran reported that candidates Alireza Zakani and Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi are expected to withdraw in favor of stronger contenders like Ghalibaf or Saeed Jalili as the election approaches. The article suggested that Zakani’s role is to absorb political damage on behalf of the principlist candidates. The site also hinted at the superficial nature of the election, pointing out the lack of genuine political competition and substantive plans for governance among the candidates.

In talking to state TV, Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi named his prospective administration the “Government of People and Family” and aligned himself with Raisi’s policies. He advocated for decentralizing authority to provinces and praised Raisi for what he called “Raisi’s direct engagement with citizens” during crises, such as the floods in Baluchestan.

In a move seen as facilitating electoral manipulation, the regime’s election headquarters announced that stamping IDs would be unnecessary, citing the availability of identity verification devices at polling stations. The election headquarters spokesperson declared on June 11, “Identity verification devices are available in all polling stations, and there is no need to stamp IDs.”

Meanwhile, MP Ali Babaee Karami warned against statements that could incite public discontent during televised debates. “You have sent monitors for the presidential election. Remind them at night on TV not to say things that might turn people against the state, structures, and laws of this country. They should remember that there are laws that the president must execute, not nonsensical statements in some places,” Karami warned.

Additionally, Kayhan newspaper wrote a column on June 10, citing the 2009 uprising and the dangers it posed to the regime’s survival. The daily, whose editorial guidelines are directed by Khamenei’s office, cautioned against any internal tensions among the candidates that could potentially spark another nationwide uprising.