Iran Election 2013: Eight Candidates and Zero Hopes For Reform


It is official. Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-backed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie have been rejected from the final list of presidential hopefuls for the upcoming June 14 election in Iran. 

Immediate reactions from Iranian and international onlookers vary in levels of surprise at the government’s decision to exclude the two candidates with the most promise to bring swifter reforms and more public access to Iran’s governance, but the whole process points to a lack of transparency. 

For his part, Ahmadinejad is already threatening to challenge the decision and it has been speculated that he could make things difficult for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei by resigning ahead of the elections. For the moment at least, Iran is left to “choose” from eight government-approved candidates. 

So, who exactly are the guys who made the cut?

1. Ali Akbar Velayati is currently a senior international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a practicing physician. He is a former Iranian foreign minister, serving during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s and through the early 1990s.  Notably, Argentina named then-Foreign Minister Velayati as party to a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people visiting a Jewish center, although the extent of his involvement remains unclear (or at least classified).

2. Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the mayor of Tehran in 2005 and previously served as a commander of the Revolutionary Guard during the Iran-Iraq War. For the past few decades he has played a leading role in the maintenance of Iran’s internal security.

3. Hasan Rowhani serves the dual roles of cleric and the supreme leader’s representative to Iran’s version of the National Security Council. He is a former nuclear negotiator and has been plugged in to Iran’s proliferation efforts for years. 

4. Mohammad Reza Aref is the most liberal of the final candidates and previously served as a vice president under President Mohammed Khatami, considered “reformist” by many (definitely by Iran’s standards).

5. Mohsen Rezaei is a veteran of Iranian military and politics, joining the revolutionary movement in 1979 and serving as chief commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard from 1981 to 1997. He is currently the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a government body set up to settle discrepancies between the parliament and advisers to the supreme leader. He was also named by Argentina as a suspect in the 1994 bombing.

6. Saeed Jalili is Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the youngest presidential candidate in the race at 47. He is a career diplomat and has the support of ultraconservative players in the theocratic leadership. His involvement in the race has been interpreted as a clear message that Iran will avoid nuclear compromise, at least in the near future.

7. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel is a senior Expediency Council official and former speaker of Iran’s Parliament.  His son is married to the supreme leader’s daughter, extending his ties to Iran’s theocracy beyond politics.

8. Mohammad Gharazi is a self-proclaimed “technocrat” who has held the posts of both oil and telecommunications minister in Iran. He was also a member of Parliament and is running as an independent in the election.

The final candidates range in age from 47 to 71, they hold or have held jobs calling for direct contact with the supreme leader’s inner circle and the country’s security establishment, and they all appear to be hand-picked to ensure that any bid for drastic political reforms falls on deaf ears. 

Unless efforts (presidential or otherwise) to challenge Rafsanjani or Mashaie’s rejections are successful, it appears that the next few years of Iranian politics could prove even more frustrating for international actors trying to successfully deter nuclear proliferation and domestic actors vying for economic and social reforms to serve the country’s people.