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Iran, the Struggle Over the Presidency

Iran, the Struggle Over the Presidency

Friday, 14 May, 2021 - 11:00

It is not a regular presidential race. The person who will become head of state for the next four years will lead a transitional period under the banner of "maintaining the regime's identity." This identity is facing challenges regarding its legitimacy, and thus the conflict over who becomes the next president will intensify over the next few days after the battle has been limited to the "conservative wing," which has wrestled control of the state's judicial and legislative institutions. However, the conservatives are facing a real crisis in choosing the next president. They have three choices: Either a candidate from the military establishment, the religious establishment, or a conservative civilian figure. However, it is expected that the competition will be exclusive to the first two.


There is no doubt that Velayat-e Faqih (religious system of law) is facing a crisis of legitimacy after it lost much of its national legitimacy, which manifested in the low turnout during the preceding elections, in which less than 25 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Thus, the conservative wing is preparing for the possibility of a presidential election boycott by resorting to what it calls "revolutionary legitimacy," which grants it the legitimacy it needs


The regime is aware of the scale of the changes within the Iranian society and that it is unable to reproduce its ideological identity that brings all the nations of Iran together amid a decline in the prominence of ideological identities in favor of sub-identities and a rise in peripheral defiance of the center, which forces the ruling religious establishment (Vilayat-e Faqih) to manage the presidential elections like they are its last chance to keep the regime afloat and reproduce its ideological identity through the president.


There are many reasons for this reexamination of the president's position at this stage, the most significant of which is that the regime is preparing for the post-supreme leader era. Because of the absence of a strong figure with the characteristics needed to fill that gap that will be left by Ayatollah Khamenei, the ascension to the presidency of a strong figure who can cover for the weakness of the supreme leader has become a necessity, especially with talk within decision-making circles about the difficulty of choosing a successor for Supreme Leader Khamenei, as resorting to the formation of a collective leadership committee composed of three or five religious figures.


The regime's ideological nature will have a major role in determining the president's identity. Thus, what we could call the "supreme leader's institution" will be more inclined to choose a president from the religious establishment who would be more aligned with it and would be inclined to support its choice for the new supreme leader. For this reason, eyes are turning once again to the hardline religious figure close to "supreme leader's house," Iran's Chief Justice Ibrahim Raisi, who lost in the previous presidential election and has not announced his candidacy for these elections. His victory would guarantee the perpetuation of the Vilayat-e Faqih institution and maintain its strength, influence, and symbolism.


On the other hand, it seems that the ambitions of the military establishment, represented by the Revolutionary Guard, to seize the presidential seat are gaining strength, as three Revolutionary Guard generals and one from the army have announced their candidacy. The Revolutionary Guard is betting on its strength and solidity within the regime, as it is considered the revolution's backbone and its legitimacy's guarantor. It also behaves like it is among the most prominent sources of national unity, which gives it a historical symbolism through which it can speak for the widest cross-section of Iranians, a symbolism that could help the regime compensate for the drop in the conservatives' popularity. Most importantly for decision-making circles is that it would allow for "electing a strong president during a phase in which the supreme leader will be weak," which is in its favor because it is the strongest representative of the regime's identity.


Accordingly, next June, the Islamic Republic of Iran will hold an exceptional round of presidential elections, which can be described as "the most important" since the fall of the Shah's regime in 1979... Not only because it determines who will become the president of the republic, but also because they are the elections of preserving the regime and its identity, which will be subjected to tug of war between the religious institution (Vilayet-e Faqih) that wants to maintain its prestige, and a military institution that is leaving nothing of the regime but its prestige.


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