Middle East

Iran elections: Candidates and rivalries in the frame

(Left to right) Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandyar Rahim Mashaei
Image caption The final decision on who will run will be taken by the Guardian Council

The Iranian presidential elections, on 14 June, are now expected to pit three wings of the establishment against each other.

Political parties opposed to the Islamic Republic are boycotting the process for not being free and fair.

However, the regime's internal factions, which have been locked in bitter power struggles for years, have all put forward candidates.

In Iran, factions are not fully functional political parties but loose networks of influential elements representing institutional and financial interests.

Within the next few weeks the country's constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, will impose its authoritarian whip by eliminating candidates who are seen to be outside the accepted political discourse.

The key figures are:

  • Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator, who has loyally implemented the wishes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is being seen as a possible candidate for the establishment. Another favourite here is Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
  • For the government faction, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, particularly known for his controversial religious views, has registered. Mr Mashaei is seen as the protege of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is representing the centrist and pro-reform factions, which constitute the regime's internal opposition.

Ruling conservatives

The right-wing and conservative elements who swear allegiance to the Supreme Leader control almost all state institutions.

They want to maintain the political status quo by allowing limited liberty to other factions, sufficient to legitimise the regime but too little to allow them to become a threat.

The conservatives have played a shrewd game of fielding more than 20 candidates to create an impression of rivalry, open democracy and choice for the electorate. Most of them are, however, politically identical.

It is not clear which of these candidates will be their final choice. But Mr Jalili and Mr Qalibaf are attracting the greatest attention.

Mr Jalili is seen as an obedient right-wing apparatchik for the Supreme Leader who seeks an aggressive policy abroad and limited political openness at home. Mr Qalibaf is more of a moderniser and a technocrat, possibly with greater independence.

They hope to mobilise a "populist downtrodden" vote against Mr Rafsanjani, but some observers accuse them of planning to rig the elections.

Ahmadinejad supporters

The government faction includes right-wing elements loyal to President Ahmadinejad.

They are represented by Mr Mashaei, whose eccentric religious and mystical views have angered the traditional clergy and turned him into an ideological outcast.

The pro-government faction is counting on the votes of the lower-income groups which have benefited from Mr Ahmadinejad's populist homebuilding and cheap loan projects.

They have also been criticising the ruling conservatives in the hope of winning the protest vote.

Mr Mashaei might be ruled out by the Guardian Council because of his controversial philosophical views.

Centre-reformist faction

Pro-reform and centrist politicians are in a de facto coalition against the authoritarian practices of the regime.

Representing them is Mr Rafsanjani, who has been under intense pressure from the establishment not to enter the race.

He has been a critic of the current government by calling for greater moderation at home and in foreign policy.

He recently outraged conservatives by saying that Iran did not want war with Israel.

This faction is counting on the middle classes and the Bazaaris, or commercial class, as well as the protest vote. The presidential elections in Iran have been sparked into life with the unexpected registration of several key figures.