The short presidential election season in Iran has kicked off as several candidates registered to become part of what promises to be a crowded field.
From early Tuesday morning, dozens of personnel at the interior ministry sat behind desktop computers, mounted two metres apart, to register candidates who were all obligated to wear masks and were only allowed a small entourage as the country continues to deal with a fourth major wave of COVID-19 infections.
Candidate registration ended at 6pm local time, but potential candidates will have the same allotted time frames every day until Saturday to register and talk to reporters about their plans for the country at this vital juncture.
Two prominent military candidates signed up on the first day. Hossein Dehghan, 64, currently serves as defence adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei and was defence minister during the first term of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani. He said he signed up to resolve the people’s issues, and promised his potential administration would treat people equally.
Saeed Mohammad, 53, said he is running as an independent and wants to unite the country. The brigadier general was the commander of the powerful Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters until last month, when he said he resigned to run for president but some members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said he was fired due to “violations”.
The relatively young commander was then appointed as an adviser to IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami.
“I know how to circumvent and also nullify sanctions, while I will make it so they will be lifted,” he said on Tuesday regarding sanctions unilaterally imposed by the United States after it abandoned Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
Both appeared to support the restoration of the 2015 nuclear deal. Delegates from Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the European Union are now in Vienna – as well as a US delegation staying in a separate hotel – to negotiate the full return to the deal by both Iran and the US.
The remaining candidates who registered on Tuesday were relatively or completely unknown.
As with previous election cycles, several eccentric characters also signed up. This year, they included a woman who came to register on her motorcycle (women are forbidden to ride in Iran), a man who said he has come to save humanity from going extinct in the next 20 years, and an elderly man dressed in a shroud and holding a Quran who repeatedly shouted his desire to uphold the constitution.
Disagreement over candidacy criteria
According to Tasnim, a semi-official news website affiliated with conservatives, current judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi will soon join the race for president. Raisi, who ran unsuccessfully against Rouhani in 2017, would be a top contender if he decides to run.
Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who also ran in 2017 but dropped out to support Raisi, has reportedly told politicians he will not run to back Raisi again.
According to the election headquarters, more than 59 million people are eligible to vote in the June 18 election, about 1.4 million of whom are first-time voters. However, many observers believe voter turnout will be low.
After Saturday, the overarching constitutional vetting body known as the Guardian Council will review the candidates, and announce its final list by May 27.
The overwhelming majority of candidates are expected to be disqualified, as has been the case in previous votes. No woman has been selected to run for president by the council since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But internal clashes have only intensified this election cycle as the council and the presidency have faced off over candidacy criteria.
Earlier this week, the council unilaterally proclaimed a series of conditions with the stated goal of weeding out unqualified candidates. Those included an age limit of 40 to 75 years, and a requirement to have at least four years of senior executive leadership experience.
That would, in theory, eliminate potential candidate Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the current ICT minister who will turn 40 in September. It could also jeopardise several reformists like former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, former senior diplomat Sadeq Kharrazi, and former legislators Mahmoud Sadeqi and Mostafa Kavakebian.
Prominent reformist Tajzadeh announced on Tuesday via a tweet that he will register on Friday morning. He has previously said if elected, he will make the supreme leader “accountable” and elected by the people, in addition to “sending the IRGC back to the barracks”.
On Monday, President Rouhani ordered his interior ministry to ignore the proclamation – which has been criticised as illegal by some – and proceed as before.
But the council said it would refuse to consider candidates as formally registered if they fail to provide all the documents – including a lack of criminal record and no history of dissent – as requested.