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The main contenders to replace Raisi in Iran’s snap presidential election


WASHINGTON — With a month to go before Iran’s snap presidential election to replace ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a May 19 helicopter crash, a clearer picture is emerging of other conservatives who may become the only approved candidates in the race.

The Iranian government set the presidential election for June 28, with prospective candidates invited to register during a five-day period beginning Thursday. All candidates must be vetted by the Guardian Council, an unelected body stacked with loyalists of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In reports published Sunday, Iranian state media said the council will announce the approved candidates about two weeks before the vote.

Raisi was elected president in a 2021 vote marred by a record low turnout, with many Iranians disinterested after the Guardian Council barred his most prominent rivals from running. Some observers saw the election of Raisi, a protege of the 85-year-old Khamenei, as a sign of the supreme leader favoring Raisi to become his successor.

One possible candidate for next month’s race for is acting President Mohammad Mokhber, who had been Raisi’s first vice president and was next in line to assume the presidency upon the president’s death, according to the terms of Iran’s Islamist constitution.

Jason Brodsky, policy director for U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and a longtime observer of Iranian politics, said he has seen mixed signals about whether Mokhber will register as a presidential candidate. He discussed other likely contenders in an interview for the Monday edition of VOA’s “Flashpoint Global Crises” program.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: What signals should we be looking for regarding whom Supreme Leader Khamenei wants to be the next president?

Jason Brodsky, UANI policy director: We have to look at which candidates the Guardian Council disqualifies. In this round of presidential elections, there are a few announced and potential candidates who are being spoken about in Iranian media. I’ll list them briefly.

One is Saeed Jalili, a hard-line figure who was formerly the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and currently is Khamenei’s representative in the council. Jalili has been in favor of aggressive moves in advancing Iran’s nuclear program [which Tehran says is peaceful and Western powers fear it is aimed at developing nuclear weapons]. He already has announced his presidential candidacy.

Another contender is Ali Larijani, who seems to have a personal desire to run, but is unsure of getting a green light for his candidacy from the ruling governmental system. That is because of his baggage from the 2021 presidential race, when he was disqualified in an embarrassing manner after having served as the speaker of Iran’s parliament.

Larijani is probably the most qualified potential presidential candidate on the field in terms of the number of positions he has had in the Islamic Republic’s bureaucracy: culture minister, head of state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Supreme National Security Council secretary and speaker of parliament.

Among other figures seen as presidential contenders is Mehrdad Bazrpash, Iran’s minister of roads and urban development. He is an alum of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration. Prior to that, Bazrpash was a member of a student Basij militia organization. He is part of this young generation of “hezbollahis” [fervent supporters of the Islamic Republic] that Khamenei has been cultivating.

Parviz Fattah, another contender, is head of the state-owned enterprise Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO). He also is a former official of Iran’s top military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and a former head of several state foundations and enterprises linked to the economy.

For example, Fattah led the Mostazafan Foundation charitable trust and the IRGC Cooperative Foundation. He is under multiple U.S. sanctions designations.

VOA: What qualities or qualifications do you think Khamenei is looking for in his next president?

Brodsky: I think Khamenei is laser focused on succession in the Islamic Republic. That is his largest priority. He wants to install someone in the presidency who is a trusted pair of hands during a sensitive moment in the Islamic Republic’s history.

Let’s not forget that the next Iranian president will be in office for a full four-year term. So, Khamenei is making a long-term placement in this office, and he wants to make sure the presidential office is occupied by someone who will not cause problems for his priorities during a succession process.