Recently Iranian authorities started registering candidates for the upcoming elections in June that will determine a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The hard-line Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that supervises the elections, will vet the applicants before allowing them to run in the June 14 elections. The list of candidates will be announced later this month.
The June 14 vote is a test for Iran after Ahmadinejad's reelection in 2009 ignited the biggest street protests in the Islamic Republic's history, badly denting the legitimacy of its entrenched leaders and its hybrid clerical-electoral system. Leading figures of the 2009 opposition — politicians, dissidents, and journalists — have been silenced or have fled the country. Many of them are still in jail. Two of the main presidential challengers from 2009, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, remain under house arrest.
Regardless of what political maneuvering takes place prior to the election, one thing is for sure, economy is the foremost issue for the Iranian electorate.
Despite having the second largest reserves of oil and gas in the world Iran today finds itself in an economic hellhole of sorts. Recent sanctions by the west coupled with an inept handling of the economy by Ahmadinejad’s government have led to an unemployment rate of 13% and a massive inflation rate of 32%. Furthermore, in the year ending in March state revenue was at $77 billion — well below the budget projection of $117 billion. There are two major problems with the Iranian economy; firstly, corruption is rampant and secondly, the moves towards greater privatization have only benefited a handful of people and are generally seen as a means of appeasing favored interest groups. For the Iranian voter, economic reform and stability, more than anything else, will come to define the June election.
Foreign policy on the other hand will not be on the cards in the election. All the major foreign policy shots are called by Khamenei. Iran’s nuclear program is still under close control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Anti-Americanism still runs deep within the establishment and among major parts of the population. Although the mention of democratically elected nationalist leader Mohammad Mossadegh is frowned upon by the establishment due to his secular leanings, nonetheless, the wounds of the 1953 CIA sponsored coup that overthrew him and subjugated the Iranian people to over two decades of harsh and tyrannical by the U.S. backed Shah have still not healed-and with good reason. It would be folly for the world community to expect any sudden changes in Tehran with regard to its foreign policy preferences including its nuclear program, its anti-American sentiment and its relationship with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus — even if a more moderate candidate prevails.
With respect to the candidates, Ahmadinejad who cannot by law become president for another term is all set to field his preferred candidate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei against Khamenei’s preference. Khamenei, with whom Ahmadinejad has been at odds with over the recent past despite Khamenei’s support for his election in 2009, is ideally looking for someone with a significantly toned down personal ambition with an ability to execute Khamenei’s ultimate will. Other major potential candidates include Mohammed Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran who enjoys Khamenei’s support and Mohammad Khatami who is known for having a slightly reformist attitude (although he has still not decided whether he will run). All of these candidates have thus far stressed the importance of economic reform and the need to build an Iranian economy less prone to suffering from shocks in the oil market.
With the IMF predicting the entire Iranian economy to shrink by 1.3% in 2013 and a public suffering the consequences of high inflation and sanctions including a massive shortage of life-saving drugs, economic policy will play a decisive part in the elections.