More than 59 million Iranians have been called to the polls, but turnout is expected to drop due to political disillusionment and the country's severe economic problems. After the record abstention rate (57%) in the 2020 parliamentary elections, a new surge in abstention could be detrimental to the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.
For several months, opponents in exile have been campaigning on social media to boycott the elections, using the slogan "No to the Islamic Republic", among other slogans. After the violent repression of the waves of protests in the winter of 2017-2018 and November 2019, a clear distrust of the government is increasingly openly expressed.
Only seven of the 592 people who registered made it through the filter of the powerful Guardian Council, which rejected the candidacy of leading figures such as former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, current first vice president Eshaq Yahanguiri, one of the few remaining reformists, and ultra-conservative former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose candidacy was also rejected and who will not vote in the elections.
The official list released by the Interior Ministry shows that the conservatives are in the lead ahead of the 18 June elections and raises fears of a low turnout due to the low level of competition.
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed his support for the exclusion of important reformist and moderate candidates in the upcoming presidential elections and called on the population to participate massively in the elections.
Khamenei thus ignored the demand of several prominent figures, including Iranian President Hasan Rohani, that he intervene to get the Guardian Council to accept some of the rejected candidates.
Reformists and moderates, who have ruled with Rohani since 2013, have denounced US sanctions and prioritised negotiations to revive the nuclear deal with world powers, after the latter found itself in a difficult situation following the departure of former US President Donald Trump.
In contrast, the ultraconservatives and many conservatives accuse Rohani of shirking his responsibility by blaming the current difficulties solely on the United States and the Europeans, the former for denouncing the deal in 2018 and the latter for failing to help Tehran counter the devastating effects of the US sanctions against Iran that have since been reinstated or instituted.
The council's decision boosts the presidential chances of the conservative Raisi, who is close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and had run against President Rohani in 2017. Raisi is the best known of the contenders and opinion polls have shown that Iranians were receptive to his anti-corruption campaign. As a religious figure, he has great power and influence within the country, yet the cleric's past creates controversy for being involved in a justice system in Iran that is frowned upon among activists.
The veto of Larijani, or any other candidate who might overshadow Raisi, goes much deeper than that. It has to do with the fear of losing control of a country that has been opting for the least pro-government candidate in the narrow range of possibilities. Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hardliners who want to expand Iran's nuclear programme, moderates who cling to the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
The Iranian elections come at a difficult time for a country hit by an economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic and economic sanctions imposed by the United States. The elections will produce the successor to the current president, Hasan Rohani, who is barred by the country's constitution from running for a third consecutive term. For the reformists and moderates who have governed with Rohani since 2013, the solution to the country's problems lies in the talks being held in Vienna to try to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.