Candidates for the presidency of Iran: who are they?

A heart surgeon, a former Tehran mayor and a cleric implicated in the execution of political prisoners are among six candidates approved by authorities to run in Iran’s election on Friday to replace the president who died in a helicopter crash last month.

Candidates renounced the application of hijab in Iran. They addressed American sanctions that have contributed to the country's struggling economy, and openly criticized the government during a series of debates, an unusual move in Iranian politics. However, voter apathy in the country is high and divisions among conservative leaders make it difficult to predict the outcome.

Although Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has ultimate authority over major state issues, the president sets domestic policy and can influence foreign policy.

Iran's Guardian Council, a committee of 12 jurists and clerics, has narrowed the initial list of 80 presidential candidates to six, disqualifying seven women, a former president and several other government officials. Four candidates are still in the running.

Two of the candidates – Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Alireza Zakani – dropped out of the race to consolidate the conservative vote. If no candidate wins a majority on Friday, a runoff between the top two winners will be held on July 5.

Iranian state television polls before the election showed reformist candidate Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian leading with about 23 percent of the vote. The conservative vote was split between Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili, who each had about 16 percent. All three fell short of the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Here's what to know about the four presidential candidates still in the running.

Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf is the current Speaker of Parliament and former mayor of the Iranian capital, Tehran. The retired pilot and commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has repeatedly run unsuccessfully for president.

He is also known for his role in the government's violent crackdown on students, first in 1999 and then in 2003, when he was the country's police chief and reportedly ordered authorities to fire live ammunition at students.

Mr. Ghalibaf faced accusations of financial corruption during his tenure as mayor of Tehran and of moral hypocrisy over his family's lavish spending abroad. He denied the charges.

Apparently close to Mr. Khamenei, the conservative politician campaigned on promises to reduce government inefficiency and criticized the government for losing money by ineffectively managing oil sanctions.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran expert and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, said Ghalibaf attempted to characterize himself as the “establishment candidate,” on the side of the elite during debates positioning himself as the only one with the experience and ability to lead.

The only reformist candidate on the ballot, Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian is a cardiac surgeon and Iran-Iraq War veteran who served in parliament and as Iran's health minister. After his wife and son died in a car crash, he raised his other children as a single father and never remarried. This and his identity as an Azeri, one of Iran's ethnic minorities, endeared him to many voters.

Reformist candidates have largely been disqualified from the 2021 presidential election and the March parliamentary elections. Experts say Dr. Pezeshkian was likely brought in to boost voter turnout among Reformist Party voters and Iranians who boycotted the March parliamentary elections. The government believes that high voter turnout is crucial to the perceived legitimacy of the election.

Dr Pezeshkian was backed by former President Mohammad Khatami and expressed openness to nuclear negotiations with the West, framing the debate as an economic issue.

Saeed Jalili is a former ultraconservative nuclear negotiator nicknamed “the living martyr” after losing a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. He heads the far-right Paydari party and represents the country’s most uncompromising ideological views when it comes to domestic and foreign policy.

Mr. Jalili said he believes Iran does not need to negotiate with the United States for economic success. While he is probably the candidate closest to Mr Khamenei, he presents a “totally unrealistic” assessment of Iran's economic capabilities to the public, Mr Boroujerdi said.

“He is absolutely against, not only any nuclear deal, but any kind of opening in the West,” Boroujerdi said.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi is the only cleric running in this election. A former counterintelligence director, he was a member of the committee that oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in Evin prison in 1988. He has downplayed his role in the executions.

Frank and clear, he said during a debate that Iran's biggest problem is that the government has lost the support of the people and is unable to stimulate participation in elections.

Mr Pourmohammadi has criticized Iran's support for Russia during the current invasion of Ukraine, saying his country is not reaping sufficient benefits from supplying weapons to the Kremlin.

He also invoked former President Donald J. Trump in his campaign. “You wait and see what happens when Trump comes,” he said during a recent televised debate. “We need to prepare for negotiations.”

In one of Pourmohammadi's campaign posters, he and Trump are face to face and looking down on each other. “The person who can stand in front of Trump is me,” he reads.

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