Iran Prepares for Presidential Elections on May 19

On Friday, May 19, Iran will hold first-round election to choose its next president. Friday’s contest will feature candidates from both reformist and fundamentalist ends of Iran’s political spectrum. Reformists candidates include Mostafa Hashemitaba, Eshaq Jahangiri, and incumbent Hassan Rouhani, while the conservative camp includes Ebrahim Raisi and Mostafa Mirsalim. Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad-Baghar Ghalibaf withdrew his candidacy over the weekend and asked his supporters to vote for Raisi. In the instance that no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff election will be held on May 26.

The election campaign has featured discussion of a variety of topics. Three televised debates have been held in the past three weeks covering social, political, and economic issues. According to the BBC, the final debate on the economy was the fiercest of the three, considering the significant role economic issues have played in this campaign. Under Rouhani, the economy has improved considerably by some macroeconomic measures.  At the start of his term, inflation stood at 40 percent and has now been cut to 7.5 percent. However, this progress has not been felt by most Iranians, who face high unemployment rates, especially among the youth population. Rouhani’s negotiation of the nuclear deal aimed to alleviate some of this strain, but thus far, foreign investment has been minimal and employment has been virtually unaffected. Raisi attacked Rouhani to this end during Thursday night’s debate, voicing the concern of many that he has failed to uphold the economic reform and prosperity he promised when he was elected four years ago. Specifically, Mr. Raisi cited the closure of 250,000 small businesses and accused Rouhani of economic mismanagement.

According to policy analyst Slater Bakhtavar, “Iran’s upcoming election – and every presidential election held in that country since 1979 – is a farce.” Despite doubts, Iran’s elections still hold considerable importance for the direction of the Republic, its role in the region, and in the world. According to Al-Jazeera’s Marwan Bishra, “The elections in and by themselves are important because they express the mood of the nation. The supreme leader doesn’t have as much influence over the results as he has over the ruling establishment. A new president usually comes with a popular mandate and does have influence. But he does not have the kind of executive authority that, say, a Turkish, Russian or U.S. president has.” Additionally, Brookings Institution analyst Suzanne Maloney called Friday’s election “make-or-break for both Raisi & Rouhani: whose claim to Iran’s future persuades more voters?” She added, “[It is] not inconceivable that Raisi could win, but 1st round victory will inevitably seem less credible to Rouhani supporters [and it] risks repeating 2009.”