Today the Iranians will go to the vote to elect the eighth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in one of the most delicate elections since revolution of 1979. L’economy Iranian has perhaps never been in these conditions, the pandemic it is not over yet and from a geopolitical point of view we are leaving perhaps the most tense four years in relations with United States, characterized by several moments of high tension with former President Donald Trump. As usual, the more than five hundred presidential candidates had to pass the scrutiny of the Guardian Council which disqualified most of them and reduced the list to seven personalities, which then became four due to the “strategic” withdrawal of three other candidates in recent days.
If, as already happened in the past, several reformist and centrist candidates were excluded from the race, a little highlighted element is the lack of green light for a series of candidates of the Pasdaran (Irgc), like the general and former defense minister, Hossein Dehgan O Parviz Fattah, former minister under Ahmadinejad and director of the Foundation for the oppressed and the disabled.
The difficult economic situation had already nourished sufficient premises for aturnout which promises to be much lower than usual (almost always over 65%). The implicit preference of circles close to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, for the conservative candidate Ibrahim Raisi then ended up making the selection process of the Guardians Council appear politically motivated: the list of remaining candidates, composed by Raisi himself, with an immortal Mohsen Rezaei (to the fourth nomination), by Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and the former governor of the Central Bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati, indicates a favorite of the conservative camp, namely Raisi himself, also by virtue of the fact that low participation is expected especially from reformist voters, largely disappointed by the general decline of their current.
The two candidates in the running: Raisi, the man of the purges of 1988, and the pragmatist Hemmati
If to most observers everything seems to indicate a probable victory of Ibrahim Raisi, the televised debates of recent days recommend a margin of prudence: both for the historic unpredictability of the Iranian elections, in which unexpected candidates have won several times, and for the unexpected protagonism of Abdolnaser Hemmati (and his wife Sepideh Shabestari who at the beginning of June gave an interview on state TV, becoming the next day a trending topic on social media in Persian).
Hemmati, born in 1956, belongs to second generation of Khomeinists of the 1979 revolution: several photos at the dawn of the Islamic Republic portray him near theayatollah Khomeini and the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in whose party Sazandegi Kar Cargozar entered in the late 1990s. His proximity to the deceased Iranian magnate, of a pragmatic-centrist area, helps to outline the profile of a realistic candidate, fully organic to the system but in practice very little influenced by revolutionary ideology. An impression reinforced by the decisions that Hemmati, holder of a doctorate in economics, made as governor of the central bank. That of governor is a position that he was called to fill in a sudden way in 2018, after two months since ambassador to China, following the announcement of the withdrawal of the United States fromnuclear agreement. The currency in free fall, strengthened by the reintroduction of sanctions, had prompted Hemmati to launch a series of financial engineering operations.
In 2018, it rationalized and transformed the Central Bank’s integrated exchange system into a sort of marketplace in which Iranian exporters could use their revenues in foreign currency, thus finding a way to attract it to the country in years of severe shortage. Even more explanatory than his cautious pragmatism, vaguely appreciated bipartisan, is the management of the situation of five insolvent banks linked to the Pasdaran, in which the same government had shares. Hemmati has maintained a permanent reserve on the issue, avoiding embarrassment to the IRGC and to the upper echelons of the Islamic Republic, but at the same time deciding a problematic merger of five institutes in the Banca Sepah. As the analyst recalls Ali Dadpay, Hemmati tends to avoid internal clashes within the establishment, much preferring the search for mediations.
Hemmati’s chances of becoming president are primarily linked to his profile as an economist in a particularly complex situation that he has already shown he can handle. Secondly, to its low profile which at best could attract the vote of both disappointed reformists and pragmatic conservatives, or even principals who see well as a bureaucrat figure at the head of a country under sanctions, which on the other hand part would have a more malleable approach in international dossiers, first of all the nuclear one. Hemmati, who pushed hard during the election campaign less state interference in the economy and for one greater diplomacy “with the East and the West”, thanks to its connections in the Asian financial markets, is clearly disadvantaged due to theabsence of a solid electoral base, but at the same time suitable for playing a compromise role.
Ebrahim Raisi, which an electoral base in the city of Mashhad can boast it, remains the favorite. Known in the West for overseeing thousands of death sentences in purges of 1988 and head of the judiciary since 2019, Raisi was defeated by Rouhani in the last elections in which, similarly to the next ones, he promoted a “Strong government for the people”. His main election promise concerns the construction of 4 million housing units for the weaker social groups. His election could also be a facilitating element in the underground process of future selection of the successor of the Supreme Guide: Ali Khamenei, now 82 years old and according to some rumors ill, also passed from the presidency before being elected by the Assembly of Experts as Khomeini’s successor in 1989, thanks to Rafsanjani’s lobbying activity.
Raisi’s greatest enemy risks being precisely the redundant diligence of the Guardians Council which, if at first glance it disqualified a series of candidates precisely in function of Raisi’s strengthening, on the other hand it risks sending a message of opposite sign to the unpredictable Iranian electorate, which refers to declining credibility of the electoral process of the Islamic Republic. This is an aspect that should not be underestimated because participation in the vote has always been used by the regime to demonstrate its good health. Raisi himself has hinted that he disagrees with the large number of exclusions, recommending several times once “High participation” that to many it seemed a coded message to the Council itself, an implicit (and unheard) appeal to the flexibility.
Paraphrasing the analyst’s considerations Nicola Pedde, it is right there “Scorched earth” created around the figure of Raisi to make it appear as the only fertile electoral “landing place” that could potentially keep away the majority of an electorate rarely inclined to candidates strongly promoted from above. Both in the case of a Raisi victory and in the case of Hemmati’s, however, the prospects of the nuclear dossier they are less dissimilar than they seem: in both cases there is the potential will to exploit a more dialoguing American presidency and seek a new agreement that provides greater guarantees. And in both cases, the role of the presidency and the government itself in the negotiations would be more limited than in recent years, in which it has sometimes been evident, as well as attested by the well-known declarations of Elegant which should have remained private, the conflict between the executive in office and the IRGC, promoters of two different lines of foreign policy.