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Issue Guide: Iran's Presidential Elections

Author: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
June 10, 2013


Iran's June 14 presidential elections offer a narrow band of candidates heavily screened by regime authorities. There are few signs that the vote can spur anything close to the public protests that emerged four years ago amid calls for a "green revolution," but experts say the elections may still be consequential for a country increasingly isolated internationally because of concerns about its nuclear program. The following information and analysis pieces offer a guide to the issues surrounding the elections.

Supreme Leader Ali-Khamenei (photo: Courtesy of Reuters)
The Elections and Democracy

Foreign Affairs: Iran's Democracy of Small Differences
Commentators have assumed that the Iranian public will approach the election with apathy, maybe even hostility. But just because the vote is not entirely free and fair does not mean that Iranians will treat it as unimportant, writes Hooman Majd.

Economist: You Never Know
It is possible that divisions between the conservatives over who should bear their standard might let a reformer slip through to the second round, in the event that no one gets a first-round majority. Moreover, experience suggests that it is unwise to make heavy bets on Iran's presidential poll.

EAWorldView: Highlights from the Third Presidential Debate
Principlist and conservative candidates--Ali Akbar Velayati, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel--used the debate to criticize the Reformists and past Reformist governments, while Reformist candidate Mohammad-Reza Aref and his moderate counterpart Hassan Rouhani slammed the Principlist movement and the current Ahmadinejad administration.

The New Republic: An Election Foretold
Of the nearly seven hundred would-be candidates, only eight were approved by the Guardian Council--six of them kindred souls of the conservative ruling coalition, including four past Iran Revolutionary Guard Core commanders. Perhaps more surprising, though, was who wasn't allowed to run, writes Abbas Milani.

IranPolitik: What Is the IRGC's Ideal Presidential Candidate?
Who best fits the IRGC's conception of the ideal presidential candidate? Saeed Jalili seems like the most obvious choice. He has emphasized the need to create a "resistance economy" in order to relieve the economic pressure created by Iran's foes. He has called for the creation of an indigenous development model which he calls the "civilizations building paradigm of the Islamic Revolution."

RFE/RL: How Much Does Iran's Presidency Really Matter?
The Islamic Republic is designed to balance two forms of governance: theocracy and democracy. Under the system, the supreme leader, the paramount expert in religious law, supervises the office of the president, who represents the people's will and presidential authority has varied, writes Charles Recknagel.

NPR: Iran's Election May Not Really Be About Picking a President
As one lesser-known candidate said, the election wasn't really to decide policy. It was simply for Iranians to show up by the millions and show support for their government against outside powers, reports Steve Inskeep.

Elections and the Nuclear Program

The Weekly Standard: Radioactive Regime
Washington is now in a self-imposed lull on the Iranian nuclear question, awaiting the Islamic Republic's presidential election on June 14. We know that this election is meaningless for the atomic program, that Khamenei--not Iran's president, who will probably be personally approved by the supreme leader before the election--has controlled the nuclear dossier from the beginning, writes Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Los Angeles Times: Trying Too Hard With Iran
The guardians of the Islamist state are emphatic in their belief that the United States harbors an enduring animosity not just toward their state but to the Muslim world. Its next president, drawn from the ranks of regime loyalists, is unlikely to temper this noxious political culture, writes CFR's Ray Takeyh.

Foreign Affairs: Don't Discount the Iranian Election
The presidential election does seem to matter to Ali Khamenei--which is precisely why it should matter to observers in the West. The election should be understood as a forum that signals the supreme leader's political intentions, including those concerning the nuclear issue, writes Dennis Ross.

The Iran Project: Balancing Pressure With Diplomacy
The third report from The Iran Project explores some of the advantages and disadvantages for U.S. interests in the Middle East that might flow from bilateral negotiations with Iran to achieve a nuclear deal, and proposes steps that the president might take to establish a framework for direct talks, write William Luers, Iris Bieri, and Priscilla Lewis.

Human Rights and Iranian Society

CFR Crisis Guide: Iran
This interactive presentation traces Iran's history, its evolution as an Islamic republic, and its controversial nuclear program, and provides an overview of the main policy options for dealing with Iran.

Report of the Special UN Rapporter on Human Rights in Iran
The Special Rapporteur assesses in this report that there continues to be widespread and systematic violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CFR Backgrounder: Human Rights in Iran
Under an increasingly repressive regime focused on survival amid internal strife and external pressures, experts say prospects for reform are bleak.

Al-Monitor: Where an Old KIA Beats a Mercedes-Benz
While legitimacy is important to Iran's powers that be, what's more important is stability, especially at a time when the regime is facing increasing divisions as well as economic challenges, writes Meir Javedanfar.

RFE/RL's Persian Letters Blog: 'Death to Dictator' Chants Reported
Thousands of Iranians attending the funeral of a dissident ayatollah broke into chants against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for the release of political prisoners, opposition websites have reported.

RAND: The Rise of the Pasdaran
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps--also known as the Pasdaran (Persian for "guards")--has seen a broadening of its domestic roles since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

General Election Background

Guardian: Iranian Presidential Elections 2013: The Essential Q&A

Project on Middle East Democracy: Guide to Iran's Presidential Election

Wilson Center: Iran 2013 Election Update

CFR Backgrounder: The Lengthening List of Iran Sanctions

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