Friday’s presidential election in Iran has been referred to as a “coronation” for a hardline candidate backed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Though there are as many as seven candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring, the presidential election will have profound implications for the Middle East in the wider canvas not the least because the region ~ with nuclear ambition ~ has been roiled by years of tension between Tehran and the West, pre-eminently America.
Granted that Khamenei has the final say in matters nuclear and military, the fact remains that it is the President who controls domestic matters such as the economy and serves as the public face of the Islamic Republic.
His decisions can affect how the rest of the world interacts with Iran. The tenures of the hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that of the relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, whose administration reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, are a reflection of the dominant paradigm that shapes state policy.
Attention is riveted to the prospects of the hardline judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, who is the clear front-runner after a panel overseen by Khamenei disqualified his major rivals. Even the Western powers are sceptical of his candidature. He has presided over a judicial system in Iran that remains one of the world’s top executioners, with Revolutionary Courts conducting many trials behind closed doors. It bears recall that in 2019, the US Treasury under President Trump sanctioned Raisi “for his administrative oversight over the executions of individuals who were juveniles at the time of their crime and the torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran.”
Raisi as the head of the judiciary also oversees a system long criticized by families of detainees and activists as targeting dual nationals and those with Western ties to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations.
In early January, Raisi had threatened Trump, still the US President, with assassination while speaking at the first anniversary of the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed the Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani.
In recent presidential debates, however, Raisi said he would oversee a return to the nuclear deal reached by Rouhani. That accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Since Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the agreement, Iran has been enriching small amounts of uranium to up to 63 per cent purity ~ a record high though still below weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
Iran’s economy has been torpid ever since America’s withdrawal from the accord. Rejoining the deal, even though the agreement has been opposed by hardliners, could help ease the economic hardship.