Iranian Presidential elections are significant not only at domestic level but international community is also keen about the results. The main contest is expected between “hardliner”, black turbaned cleric Ebrahim Raeisi, backed by conservative groups and moderate white turbaned, Hasan Rouhani who enjoys the support of “reformists”. In an ‘economy oriented election’ President Rouhani seeks votes based on claims of “good governance” and “successful nuclear deal” while hardliners check the claims by calling them “unfulfilled” promises. They have been endeavoring to undermine these relative “success stories” throughout the election campaign.
Islamic Republic of Iran manifests unique political structure, where ruling clergy enjoys all sorts of political powers enjoyed by the “Holy Roman Empire”, although it has a blend of public representation. On the top of power structure, the Supreme Leader of Iran is the ultimate authority in both religious and political matters. The office of president is the second most important office in political hierarchy. Constitutionally, Supreme leader must be, indirectly elected prominent religious cleric. As for as President of the country is concerned, since Islamic revolution, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been the only non-cleric president of Iran, the one who proved to be far ahead of radical clerics. Another interesting fact about the post of president of the country is that all its presidents have enjoyed two terms which means a period of eight years. The same has happened in the United States of America in recent years.
Unlike contemporary politics of Iran, in the past the colour of turban had also been considered an important factor which would impact the poll results. In the religious tradition of Iran, religious scholars and clerics like other Shia theologians wear a special dress which consists of long shirt, gown and turban. Some wear black turban, some white. The colour of turban by no means is a matter of choice. If it is established through their family tree that the person is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad only then he is eligible to hold black turban otherwise he has to restrict to the white one. Traditionally black turbaned clerics enjoy more respect and sanctity than the white ones. The supreme leader of the country Ayatullah Khamenei, like his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini has a black turban. Four former presidents were equally divided in black and white.
The Guardian Council which comprises of ‘black and white’ turbaned clerics and the so called Election Commission of the country has announced six candidates eligible for the upcoming presidential run. Rejection of more than 1200 “ineligible” candidates, including former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, created much hue and cry. However the Constitution of Islamic Republic empowers the Guardian Council to declare any candidate as ineligible without assigning any reason.
In the presidential elections which are scheduled to be held on 17th May 2017, the main contest is expected between white turbaned, Hasan Rouhani and black turbaned cleric Ebrahim Raeisi. The sitting president Hassan Rouhani enjoys the support of “reformist” and “moderate” circles while “hardliners” and conservative groups are backing Ebrahimm Raeisi. Analysts agree that it is going to be an economy oriented election. Rouhani’s claims hold truth to the extent that unemployment and inflation have been reduced due to “good governance” and “successful nuclear deal” with 5 plus one, but it is also undeniable that he could not really come up to the expectations of the working class.
Raeisi and other conservative candidates will try to highlight the unfulfilled promises undermining the relative success stories narrated by Rouhani’s camp. Rouhani would have less space to discuss the real hindrances in the path of constructive economic reforms and is most likely to fall in the trap of self-defense. So far his election camp has not come up with a well thought workable economic policy, as it has appeared in presidential debates televised by the state run channel.
Rouhani’s main opponent in the race is Raeisi but other hardliner and conservative runners like Bagher Ghalibaf have successfully engaged rather dragged him to their own pitch, where Rouhani was just confined to answer harsh criticism, instead of elaborating his own policies. In last four years at his office it was the massive public support of people which enabled him to sustain the never ending pressures posed by the powerful circles from within the deeper state, in terms of nuclear deal and opening up to the world. For a successful campaign and to attain the public support in coming elections, Rouhani needs much more to offer than merely relying on “nuclear deal” and minor decrease in unemployment.
In Iranian political structure directly elected President and his team doesn’t have sufficient powers to execute their desired policies. In most cases the governments are subject to double edged criticism and pressure, one from the folks due to not delivering and other from ‘deeper state’ which does not allow them to deliver. In such countries any radical change in the spheres of politics and economy is resisted rather retaliated by state’s own institutions, simply because of their vested interests.
In the aftermath of nuclear deal, many critics to this deal reiterated that the results of the deal have not been that great. A criticism which sounds logical but the fact is the critics themselves have been among the major hurdles. Beyond any doubt, in previous elections the strength of government of Rouhani rested in educated urban middle class and it is believed that these people will continue to support Rouuhani because of absence of any other suitable option. But success of Rouahni would also partly depend on how to win support from some new voters especially from among the powerful hardliners.
The major challenge for Hasan Rouhani will not be to get the support of masses but to attain the confidence of powerful political elite, a small but defining segment in the political structure of Islamic republic. The black turbaned supreme leader has once again assured the people of Iran that he does not have any favorites in ongoing presidential run rather participation of people is the only objective he is looking at. But his critics believe that his black turbaned fellow Raeisi is closer to his ideology and disposition. Being the most powerful person of the country, black turbaned Ayatullah Khamenei is capable of handling both black and white turbaned candidates albeit in two different ways. At the end of the day it is people of Iran who will choose their president but the political elite will decided how to deal with black or white turbaned president.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.