Iranian Presidential Elections
18 MAY 2017 Spotlight
Presidential elections in Iran will be held on 19 May. The strongest candidates are Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current president, and Ebrahim Raisi, who is said to be a favourite of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Who are the candidates and who is the front-runner?

A record 1,636 Iranians declared they would run. The Guardian Council, which is responsible for screening candidates, gave the green light to six of them. Notably, the Council rejected the application of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose candidacy was criticised by the Supreme Leader. The presidency will likely come down to either Raisi or Rouhani. Raisi represents the conservatives and is said to be supported by the Ayatollah. The more moderate Rouhani has the support of reformists, among them former President Mohammad Khatami. Rouhani is the favourite; however, thanks to the conservatives’ relatively good campaign, Raisi still stands a good chance to win, especially in a runoff (26 May if needed).

What topics dominated the campaign?

The economy, mainly. Raisi made many promises, among them to triple the monthly cash benefits to the poorest Iranians. He criticised Rouhani for not delivering on his earlier economic pledges and fighting corruption. Raisi also accused the current president of working only for Iran’s elites. Rouhani, in turn, said more time is needed for the economic benefits of the multi-state nuclear deal (JCPOA) to be fully felt. He promised to get the remaining sanctions lifted and criticised Raisi for a lack of diplomatic experience. In the campaign’s last stage, Rouhani sharpened his rhetoric and bashed his opponent for his stance on human rights (Raisi was member of a “Death Committee” that sentenced to death thousands of political prisoners in 1988). At the same time, Raisi portrayed himself as a candidate supporting freedom.

How will the election results affect Iranian politics?

Raisi is considered to be a potential successor to Ayatollah Khamenei. His win in the elections would make it even more probable. On the other hand, Rouhani’s triumph would be another step in a mild thaw in Iran’s internal politics (after moderate candidates’ success in parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections last year). The presidential election’s influence on Iranian foreign policy will be limited. It is hard to expect any major changes on the Middle Eastern front, where Iran’s activities are shaped mainly by the Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader. Nevertheless, one may expect Rouhani’s administration would take a more conciliatory approach towards international partners than Raisi’s. The conservative’s candidate’s triumph may result in deeper Russia-Iran ties.

What will happen to the nuclear deal?

Rouhani’s administration has repeatedly declared it intends to fulfil its side of the nuclear deal. The political capital invested by the president in promotion of the agreement seems to ensure continuation of this course. Moreover, Rouhani may engage in a diplomatic effort to prompt EU countries to keep their distance from U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the deal. If Raisi wins, the future of the nuclear deal seems more in doubt, since he has repeatedly criticised it. If Trump tries to curb the economic benefits to Iran, that might induce a President Raisi to break the agreement, although not without the Ayatollah’s consent. Thus far, the Supreme Leader has been supportive of the agreement, although he made comments recently that may suggest he is disturbed by how it is being implemented.

Will the Iranian election affect Poland and how?

The atmosphere of Iran-U.S. relations has the most influence on Polish-Iranian ties. If Raisi wins, American-Iranian tensions probably will intensify. If Rouhani triumphs, tensions may diminish and hinge on the EU’s support for the nuclear deal. Irrespective of the election result, the Trump administration may exert political pressure on U.S. allies to reduce Iran’s economic benefits from the deal. This, in turn, may impede the prospects for the development of Polish exports to the Iranian market, efforts to win contracts for Polish companies, and further deliveries of Iranian oil to Poland.