Iran's presidential election which will see a new leader in office as Hassan Rouhani steps down due to term limits is once again pitting Islamic hardliners against centrists or "moderates". Rouhani himself has long represented the moderate faction, striking the 2015 nuclear deal with the West and currently seeking its restoration through the Vienna negotiations. But this chapter looks to imminently come to an end.
Iranians head to the polls on Friday, June 18, in a race that's boiling down between ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi - currently the head of the judiciary - against his main rival Abdolnaser Hemmati, a centrist former head of of the Central Bank of Iran. A close ally of Ayatollah Khamenei, Raisi is the clear favorite to win, also amid widespread Western allegations that the outcome has already been engineered by the Islamic Republic's powerful conservative clerics. CNN for example writes, "Iran's political elite has decided that the next face of the Islamic Republic should be a figure steeped in its conservative roots and directly linked to some of the darkest chapters of its history," including overseeing periodic crackdowns on dissidents.
Despite the seven candidates in the race, with live televised debates and large political rallies over this past month, CNN comments further that "Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline judiciary chief with a brutal record on human rights, is running virtually uncontested in this week's presidential election, after Iran's clerical rulers barred most of his rivals from the race to replace outgoing Hassan Rouhani."
The US mainstream is broadly predicting increasing isolation for Tehran based on a Raisi victory, as well as more severe crackdowns on any domestic dissent.
However, it should be noted (or is perhaps obvious) that CNN remains at the forefront of those major networks actively cheerleading for a popular uprising toward regime overthrow in Iran, as the following Christiane Amanpour interview this week makes clear...
“The [Iranian] regime’s handling of [coronavirus] has brought people to the verge of massive hysteria,” says expert @milaniabbas. Coupled with Covid-19, if the massive unemployment and inflation persist, Milani argues “there will be an explosion of discontent.” pic.twitter.com/sIWq5S01Hp— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) June 15, 2021
Into late last week and this one, Raisi was able to pack out large soccer stadiums for campaign rallies in different corners of the country, despite persisting coronavirus fears.
According to a recent profile in leading Mideast news source Al Monitor:
Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line Iranian judiciary chief known for his role in the mass execution of thousands of prisoners in the late 1980s, is heavily favored to win Iran’s presidential election next week. If elected, Raisi has pledged to tackle "poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination."
And here's more on why Western pundits are calling the election already "rigged":
The Guardian Council, a 12-member body that vets potential candidates, announced last month that seven candidates would be allowed to run in the June 18 presidential poll. Two of the applicants most likely to pose a threat to Raisi, former parliament speaker Ali Larijani and current Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, were excluded from running.
The 60-year-old Raisi is widely believed to be the preferred candidate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who considers Raisi a close confidant and possible successor. In March 2019, Khamenei appointed Raisi as head of Iran’s judiciary, where he launched a "war on corruption" and maintained Iran’s designation as one of the world’s top executioners.
Importantly, a Raisi victory (now looking very likely) could bring the restored JCPOA nuclear deal into further doubt. The Ayatollah previously warned that Iran would not tolerate negotiations "dragging on" - however a mitigating factor is likely to be the US showing signs that it's ready to drop or relax sanctions.
The IAEA this week stated that "Everyone knows that, at this point, it will be necessary to wait for the new Iranian government" before a deal can be finalized in Vienna.