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What's at stake in Iran's presidential election?

  • Many Iranian media outlets see poll frontrunner Raisi as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turns 82 in July.
Published June 16, 2021

NICOSIA: Iran holds a presidential election on Friday, with ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi who heads the judiciary the most likely to win from the seven candidates. Here's a summary of the main issues at stake:

Voter turnout

Iranian authorities tend to transform national elections into a referendum on the Islamic republic.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged voters to turn out "massively", as calls to boycott the polls with the hashtag #NototheIslamicrepublic have surfaced on social media.

Abstaining would play into the hands "of the enemies of Iran, the enemies of Islam and the enemies of religious democracy", Khamenei said.

But this year, the abstention rate could rise above the 57 percent of legislative elections in February 2020.

A low turnout would reflect widespread disappointment among Iranians who believe outgoing president Hassan Rouhani's economic policies have been disastrous.

Rouhani himself has warned that low participation could undermine the "legitimacy" of the Islamic republic.


A year after the 2015 nuclear deal was reached between Iran and world powers, the economy began registering growth amid high hopes for an influx of foreign investment.

But former US president Donald Trump three years later unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal and slapped new sanctions on Iran.

The recession has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund said Iran's GDP began to stabilise in 2020 but the purchasing power of its people has been hit hard by soaring inflation and a collapse of its currency.

Nuclear deal

The seven presidential hopefuls agree the priority is to restore the economy and secure the lifting of punishing sanctions imposed by Trump.

They back talks underway in Vienna which could see the United States rejoin the tattered 2015 deal and lift sanctions.

US President Joe Biden has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement once it is sure Iran will respect its commitments.

Negotiators from the US are taking part indirectly in EU-chaired discussions involving Iran and the other partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Succeeding the supreme leader

All past Iranian presidents -- except for the first who was impeached and the second who was assassinated -- were elected for two consecutive four-year terms, the maximum under the constitution.

Many analysts believe the question of who will succeed supreme leader Khamenei will be on the table while the next president is in office.

Khamenei was president when he was chosen to succeed the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after his death 32 years ago.

Many Iranian media outlets see poll frontrunner Raisi as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turns 82 in July.

But "the prospect of (Raisi) succeeding Khamenei... is very uncertain," according to the US consulting firm Eurasia Group.

"It also leaves the system vulnerable, in that there is no one to blame when public expectations are unmet," it said.

"The rough and tumble of Iranian politics are not kind to presidents and Raisi has no experience serving a job with real public accountability.

"If economic problems mount, there is a heightened risk that Raisi looks less like a future leader and more like 'damaged goods'," it added.


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