Saeed Jalili: Iran's Top Presidential Contender Might Be Worse Than Ahmadinejad

“No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.”

Thousands of young men chanted this slogan at Saeed Jalili’s first presidential campaign rally on Friday.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and a staunch ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Jalili is now the front-runner in the upcoming Iranian presidential election. Jalili is the most hard-line of the eight candidates running for president and his election could spell doom for a relaxation of tensions between Iran and the United States. Even more radical than President Ahmadinejad, he is running on a platform of no compromise on Iran’s nuclear program and a strong opposition to détente.

An Iranian analyst, who remains anonymous for fear of reprisals, described Jalili as a “perfect follower of Khamenei.” He continued, “If he gets elected I foresee even more isolation and conflict, as he doesn’t care about foreign relations, the economy, or anything.”

Jalili has the support of the most conservative factions of the government, and has strong ties to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military guard. Supporters celebrate him as a martyr for his service in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, during which he lost part of his leg.

Jalili is known for his inflexible and unyielding approach to negotiations, a style which is considered the main reason why international talks on Iran’s nuclear program have not progressed. He emphasizes resistance as the key to Iranian foreign relations, stating at a recent press conference, “The fact that the Iranian nation is defending their rights makes [the United States] hopeless. Today they are witnessing Iran’s eye-catching progress, thanks to [Iranian] resistance.” 

In the face of 13% unemployment and 32% inflation, Jalili has offered few solutions to stimulate economic growth and solve hardships facing the nation. An analyst in Tehran is skeptical that Jalili would be able to address issues facing Iran, such as sectarian tensions and the risk that the Syrian civil war could spread to Iraq or Lebanon. "For all the unquestioned and unquestionable powers of the leader, he is looking daily more like a man more interested in his personal powers than the priorities of his nation," the analyst claimed

While his approach seems ignorant of the struggles Iran is facing under heavy international sanctions, the ayatollah’s support could be enough to secure a win for Jalili.

“Jalili is my candidate because he follows our supreme leader’s orders on the nuclear issue,” said Afsaneh Jadidi, a 23-year-old psychology student who attended the Friday rally. “We want a president who listens and does what the leader says.”

“He’ll easily get 30% of the vote,” said Amir Mohebbian, an analyst close to Iran’s leaders. “The remainder will be divided between the other candidates.”