As election day in Iran draws near, the six remaining prospective presidential candidates have been ramping up their campaigns in an effort to reach the country’s more than 50 million eligible voters.
While some candidates boast similar proposals to combat the nation’s various ills, a number of these men – notably the nominal frontrunners – offer starkly different visions of where they would like to take Iran over the next four years.
In assessing the candidates’ different positions, four main themes have consistently emerged: resistance, foreign policy, the economy, and reform. While these themes are certainly not mutually exclusive or reserved exclusively to certain candidates, various front-runners have touched on some of these issues more than others.
The concept of resistance is a central tenant of Shiism and the Islamist ideology that undergirds the foundation of the Islamic Republic. Resisting oppression, as well as those who would deny inalienable human rights, are core elements of faith for many within Iran.
While over the years many political groups and ideologies (including the Green Movement) have exploited this conviction for their own gain, this election cycle has seen one particular candidate, more than any other, attempt to identify his campaign with this concept: staunch conservative Saeed Jalili.
In contrast with most other candidates, Jalili – Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the country’s current top nuclear negotiator – has promised an uncompromising foreign policy, centered on “resisting” Western demands over Iran’s nuclear program. Jalili has expressed his determination to continue Iran’s current foreign policy path, including on the nuclear issue, with only minor adjustments made to the country’s stance. Relative to the other candidates, Jalili has placed far less focus on addressing the nation’s economic woes.
Reformist candidate, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator during President Mohammad Khatami, has garnered much criticism from the Jalili camp for having given “too much” in his previous negotiations with the West. In fact, there was little Rouhani could have done at the time – from 2003 to 2005, Iran froze its nuclear program, resulting in little progress in the negotiations process.
For his part, Rouhani has emphasized that Iran was not under nearly the same amount of international pressure during his tenure as nuclear negotiator, and has also criticized the country’s current foreign policy track
“I do not approve of the current foreign policy. We should try to have good international interactions to gradually reduce the sanctions and finally remove them,” Rouhani said at a recent rally.
Tehran’s technocrat mayor Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, meanwhile, has focused his campaign on stabilizing and improving Iran’s economy.
“The first thing that my government will do is to stabilize the currency. The second is to change the method of distribution of services and goods,” Ghalibaf said during the first of three presidential debates, broadcast live on television.
Foreign policy, on the other hand, has taken a clear backseat in Ghalibaf’s political platform. “The president alone cannot decide foreign policy, as it is the sum of system wide [decisions],” Ghalibaf said in a television interview earlier this month. “Our Supreme Leader and other branches have a say in this. So foreign policy does not change much with the change of president.”
Other candidates, such as former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, have stressed the importance of improving foreign relations as key to ameliorating Iran’s other challenges (namely with the economy).
Velayati has said he will reform the country’s foreign policy and pursue a policy of détente with neighboring countries. Iran’s relationship with many of its neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, have soured in the past several years.
Differences over the country’s handling of the nuclear issue reached a fever pitch during the third and final debate last Friday June 7 when, in a surprising turn of events, Velayati led criticism against Jalili’s negotiation strategy.
Velyati’s criticisms reached an unprecedented level when he alluded to his diplomatic efforts in reaching a compromise with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Velayati said he made an official trip to Paris that year to discuss Iran’s nuclear program at the invitation of Sarkozy. The two men purportedly reached a tentative compromise wherein Iran would continue enriching uranium. Sarkozy even expressed his intention to come to Tehran and shake Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hand.
According to Velayati, this initiative was sabotaged by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, which told the French Velayati was not the government’s representative.
Other relatively centrist and moderate candidates, such as Rouhani and Mohsen Rezaei, have pushed for a more reform minded agenda. They have focused on a wide range of domestic issues and have promised moderation in foreign policy.
Rouhani has been particularly outspoken in his criticisms of the current situation in Iran. He has gone as far as referencing the Green Movement protests of 2009-2011, saying, “Ignoring and neglecting a part of a group of society and the freedom-seekers and criticizers in society is not possible.”
At a campaign rally in early June, Rouhani called for an end to the securitized atmosphere that has enveloped Iran since the 2009 election. His statements were met with slogans from attendees in support of former presidential candidate and Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
As a result of this incident, members of Rouhani’s campaign team were arrested after the rally.
In a significant turn of events, Rouhani recently obtained public support for his candidacy from former Presidents Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. This led fellow moderate candidate Mohammad Reza Aref to drop out of the race in Rouhani’s favor, and caused the backbone of Iran’s reformist establishment to firmly coalesce around Rouhani.
In many respects, Iran’s six presidential candidates are aiming to obtain a plurality of votes through different messages. With just a few days left until the vote on June 14, it remains to be seen which candidates’ message will resonate the most with the masses.