Passing the Bar

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Iran’s mullahs approved six candidates to run for president on June 28, the date for a potentially tectonic election that comes as the West Asian country could face more political instability than ever.

The winner will replace Ebrahim Raisi, the late conservative president who died in a helicopter crash in May. In Iran, the unelected Shiite Muslim supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the undisputed head of state who controls the government, Al Jazeera explained. But the role of president is considered to be the number two in power. Raisi, furthermore, was a close Ali Khamenei ally. He was even widely suspected as the frontrunner to become the next ayatollah.

Now, whoever succeeds Raisi appears to have two options with Khamenei – either happily continue the supreme leader’s repressive policies against ethnic minorities, non-Muslims, secular institutions, universal human rights, women, and political dissidents, or butt heads with the mullahs and face removal.

They will also have to choose whether to continue Iran’s recently muscular foreign policy and support for Russia and its Ukraine war, noted Nikkei Asia.

That’s why most of the six candidates are hardliners, the BBC reported. Khamenei’s favorite might be Saeed Jalili, who led Iran’s efforts to stonewall at previous nuclear talks with the US and others. Another top contender, the Associated Press wrote, is Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the former mayor of the capital Tehran who is linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an elite fighting force, intelligence agency and industrial empire tasked with protecting the Islamic Republic’s sanctity.

Other developments might inspire a new president to confront the supreme leader, however.

Since 2022, civil unrest has rocked Iran as citizens have taken to the streets to protest the killing of a young woman in police custody, after arresting her on charges of violating the country’s dress code for women. Displeasure with the government is widely blamed for the turnout in legislative elections in March hitting record lows, according to CNN. Voters younger than 35 comprise around a third of the electorate. Many are among the most disaffected.

Under these circumstances, the Western press has written much about Masoud Pezeshkian, a parliamentarian who has staked out pro-Western positions and more tolerant social policies. Analysts at the Atlantic Council were surprised that the mullahs approved his candidacy.

Pezeshkian has floated the idea of rejoining US-led international talks to end its nuclear weapons program, and questioned if the Koran deems hijabs to be compulsory, for example, wrote the Financial Times. He has also appealed directly to youths, reported the Nation, releasing a documentary called “Gen Z: A View Into the Demands of a New Generation” that features him talking about young people’s concerns.

But Pezeshkian’s candidacy might also be a ploy to create “the illusion of political competition” in Iran’s authoritarian system for both foreign and domestic critics, concluded War on the Rocks.

Regardless, winning would only be his first battle.

“If the challenge of winning the election seems large,” Eurasia Group Iran expert Gregory Brew told Gzero, “the even greater challenge would be governing effectively as a reformist president – a challenge previous Iranian presidents, such as Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, have largely failed to overcome.”

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