Reformist and Hard-liner Clash in Iranian Runoff Election

The upcoming runoff election between Masoud Pezeshkian and Saeed Jalili could signal a significant shift in Iran's political landscape.

Published June 30, 2024 - 00:06am

4 minutes read
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Iran
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Iran is preparing for a highly anticipated runoff election on July 5, where reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian will face off against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili to determine the next president. This follows an initial election where no candidate managed to secure the required 50% of the votes, leading to a runoff between the two leading candidates.

The election was prompted by the untimely death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19. Raisi, known as the 'butcher of Tehran' for his role in the mass executions of political prisoners during the 1980s, had been a controversial figure in Iranian politics.

None of the four initial candidates were able to garner more than half of the votes, leading to this runoff election. Pezeshkian secured 42.5% of the votes, while Jalili trailed closely with 38.6%, according to figures released by Iranian state television. The first-round vote saw a surprising low turnout, the lowest since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979, with only 24 million Iranians casting their ballots, a mere 40% turnout.

The reformist candidate, Pezeshkian, was the sole reformist approved to run by the Guardian Council, as many other contenders were disqualified. Some analysts suggest this may have been a tactical move to boost voter engagement. Sina Toossi, an Iran analyst in Washington, D.C., told CNN, This move could be seen as a strategy to create a more dynamic and engaging election process, thereby encouraging greater public participation.

If elected, Pezeshkian is expected to adopt a more moderate approach to governance, and his presidency could potentially ameliorate Iran's strained relationships with Western countries. In contrast, Jalili has a staunchly hard-line stance and a history of being uncompromising in negotiations with Western powers, which may heighten tensions regarding Iran's nuclear program and its involvement in regional conflicts such as the war in Gaza.

The provisional results indicated that Pezeshkian led marginally with over 10 million votes, while Jalili followed with over 9.4 million votes, according to figures released by the Ministry of Interior. The two other conservative candidates in the initial race, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, received significantly fewer votes and subsequently endorsed Jalili.

This election holds significant implications for Iran's future, though it ultimately won't affect the supreme policies dictated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The president, however, oversees daily governmental operations and can influence the tone of Iran's foreign and domestic policies.

The previous President, Raisi, was known for his severe crackdowns on dissent and his close association with Khamenei. His death has left a power vacuum that this election aims to fill. Despite the low turnout and voided votes, the Interior Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, praised the voters for their participation in an election held without international monitoring.

This election has also been marred by criticisms from within Iran. Prominent figures, including the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi and Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, have called for an election boycott in protest of the disqualification of numerous candidates. The overall disenchantment is reflected in the significant number of voided ballots, indicating voters' reluctance to endorse any candidate.

The implications of a Jalili presidency could be far-reaching. Known as the 'Living Martyr' due to losing a leg in the Iran-Iraq war, Jalili's uncompromising stance could exacerbate regional tensions, especially in the context of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Pezeshkian's campaign faces the challenge of mobilizing voters who abstained in the first round. His endorsements from key reformist figures like former Presidents Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Khatami aim to bolster his appeal. Still, analysts remain skeptical. As the Eurasia Group noted before the initial vote, Pezeshkian has been a generally underwhelming candidate. Should he qualify for a runoff, his position would weaken as the conservative voting bloc unites behind a single candidate.

The runoff election comes at a critical time for Iran, amid escalating regional tensions and internal dissatisfaction. Whether Pezeshkian can galvanize enough support to secure the presidency or if Jalili's hard-line approach will prevail remains to be seen. The outcome will undoubtedly shape Iran's socio-political landscape in the coming years.

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