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Iran set for hardliner-dominated election to replace Raisi

Iran's conservative former interior minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi registers his candidacy for Iran's presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on June 3, 2024. In the background a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
By Golnar Motevalli and Arsalan Shahla Bloomberg News

Iran’s snap presidential election will be dominated by establishment hardliners, with only one reformist among the six candidates approved to compete in a vote to succeed the country’s late president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Candidates include parliament’s speaker and former IRGC officer Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ex-nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Mayor of Tehran Alireza Zakani, surgeon and former lawmaker Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, former minister of justice and interior minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, and reformist legislator Masoud Pezeshkian, according to a statement broadcast on Iranian state TV.

The Guardian Council, a powerful authority that oversees elections, approved the six-man list from 80 individuals who had registered to run in the June 28 election, which was triggered by the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

The U.S. will be closely watching the outcome of the vote as hostilities with Tehran simmer over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and Iran’s contested nuclear program.

The candidates have until June 27 to campaign and are expected to take part in five live debates on national television, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Ghazizadeh Hashemi had participated in the 2021 election, where he came fourth, while Jalili and Zakani withdrew from the race in support of Raisi.

Prominent disqualified figures include former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and veteran politician Ali Larijani, both previously barred from the 2021 ballot. Several members of former President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, including his vice president Eshagh Jahangiri, were also barred.

Moderates and reformists have only ever had an outside chance in Iranian elections and the final list of candidates illustrates how little influence they now wield.

Pezeshkian, who’s serving his fifth term as a member of parliament, stands as the solitary Iranian reformist cleared for the presidential race.

He’s known for his measured criticisms of hardline centers of power, especially as they became entrenched under the Raisi administration. As a heart surgeon, Pezeshkian demanded transparency regarding the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022, while urging restraint in protests that followed Amini’s death while in police custody.

The vote takes place at a time of crisis and uncertainty in the Middle East as Israel continues its offensive against Hamas in Gaza despite efforts by other countries in the region to broker a cease-fire.

As a key supporter of Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran has already been drawn into the conflict, conducting its first direct military strike on Israel in April.

Both Hamas and the military wing of Hezbollah are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. and E.U.