Iran will hold its presidential election this coming Friday to pick the successor of the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is finishing his second term.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is playing it safe, making sure that all of the possible candidates share his views and are thus acceptable replacements. In this year’s election, Iran’s Guardian Council has already ruled out 678 of 686 candidates, leaving eight to compete.
Eldad Pardo, an Iranian expert at Hebrew University, told The Jerusalem Post
that as far as he can see, the two leading candidates are Saeed Jalili, 48, a conservative and head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who is also Iran’s head nuclear negotiator, and Muhammad Bagher Ghalibaf, 52, who is in his second term as mayor of Tehran.
Pardo says they both were born in Mashhad, where Khamenei himself was born.
There were rumors recently that Ahmedinejad was throwing his support behind Jalili, who said on Saturday that Iran needs to continue its nuclear program despite international pressures. This came after Khamenei removed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close ally of Ahmadinejad.
“All the candidates tried to put on this moderate face, except for Jalili. They don’t want to look like Ahmadinejad,” Pardo said, adding that the Iranians do not like aggressive policies.
Jalili has all the credentials, but the real question is whether Khamenei wants someone who can run the country well, or a yes-man, said Pardo. If he wants someone who will take orders from him, then Jalili may be his choice.
Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, seems to be a more competent candidate despite his tarnished past, which over the years involved putting down protests. Pardo believes that he is probably the best candidate and the only one with real experience in terms of someone who could move the country forward and make needed domestic reforms.
In an Information and Public Opinion Solutions (IPOS) tracking poll, the Tehran mayor was the leading candidate when including likely and undecided voters.
Pardo said that Ghalibaf is running a smart campaign.
He is acting a bit like a liberal, supporting free enterprise and being more pragmatic with the West.
On Sunday, a rumor spread that some leading Iranian conservative clerics had thrown their support behind veteran diplomat Ali Akbar Velayati. Pardo does not believe that Velayati is a serious candidate, but only a backup in case Khamenei needs someone to put in at the last minute.
“He is extremely close to Khamenei, a kind of moderate.”
Although Velayati “was involved in terror attacks in Argentina, he became associated with the reformists,” Pardo said, noting that no matter who wins, the supreme leader will want him close by his side, perhaps as an advisor.
The Post asked if this election even matters, since the winner will just be a puppet for the supreme leader. Pardo responded that if you look at the history of Iranian presidents, they all had the same policy when it came to Israel, but in other ways they differed.
Because all of them are loyal, Khamenei will support the one who at the end of the day is popular, unless at the last moment he fears the leading candidate, like he did during the last elections with the rise of the Green Movement.
“The question is, which candidate can handle the people,” said Pardo, pointing out that the supreme leader needs someone who is popular and good enough to do the job.
Iran needs a president who can rebuild the country economically and more aptly handle international diplomacy – not just a populist like Ahmadinejad, who ended up helping Israel more than Iran with his shockingly honest rhetoric, uniting the world against Iran.
Despite Western-backed sanctions, the fact remains that Iran seems to be at the pinnacle of its global influence, at the center of world attention, with the West hanging on every word and action by the country’s leadership.
Iran’s new president will continue to field offers by the world’s leading powers, which are desperate for a deal that avoids a military conflict.
Iran is playing a dangerous game, but as long as the world does not call its bluff, Iran will be able to continue on its current course, regardless of who wins the coming elections.