Iran votes in a June 18 presidential election that could herald a change of direction after eight years under centrist Hassan Rouhani. The Guardian Council barred hardline ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, conservative former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani and several reformist figures from running. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the men looking to lead Iran.

Journalist: Bahar Makooi
Photos: AFP
Design and development: Studio Graphique France Médias Monde
Editor: Benjamin Dodman
Copy editor: William Prendiville
Senior producer: Stéphane Bernstein
Editorial director: Gallagher Fenwick
June 2021 © All rights reserved
Member Bio image


The ultra-conservative favourite

Ideology: Hardliner

The current head of Iran’s judiciary, the 60-year-old cleric is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose confidence he has won in series of senior roles. Raisi showed his stripes as a loyal supporter of the regime’s Islamist ideology by spending three years as head of the powerful religious foundation Astan Quds Razavi, managing billions of dollars in donations coming from pilgrims to the shrine of Imam Reza, a ninth-century Shia martyr.

Given Raisi’s statist views on the economy, he is unlikely to open Iran to foreign investors if he emerges triumphant at the ballot box. He is also a hardline traditionalist on social and cultural issues. Human rights groups accuse Raisi of ordering the execution of hundreds of political opponents when he was deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran in the late 1980s.

Raisi has every chance of prevailing on June 18 – despite his loss against Rouhani four years ago. Some observers even see him as a likely successor to Khamenei when the Supreme Leader eventually dies.

Member Bio image


The shrewd nuclear negotiator

Ideology: Hardliner

A discreet operator in Tehran’s corridors of power, Jalili is perhaps even closer to the Supreme Leader than Raisi. The two presidential candidates share the same traditionalist, Islamist views; they are so closely aligned politically that Jalili initially told the Iranian press he would stand aside if Raisi ran.

A veteran of the Iran-Iraq War – the brutal 1980-1988 conflict that saw trench warfare and horrific conditions – Jalili lost his right leg in the fighting. When he stood for president in 2013, Jalili’s supporters were keen to focus attention on an injury sustained in a conflict that still looms large in Iran’s collective memory.

Jalili was largely unknown to the Iranian public until he ran seven years ago. But he was already well-acquainted with Western diplomats – who regarded him as a formidable, intransigent figure in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme as chief Iranian negotiator under Ahmadinejad in 2007.

Member Bio image


Ex-leader of Revolutionary Guards

Ideology: Hardliner

Rezaee is secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council – an advisory body for the Supreme Leader – and is running for president for the fourth time, after losing in 2005, 2009 and 2013. Some Iranians have mocked his persistence as a perennial candidate on social media, but Rezaee’s admirers highlight it as a virtue.

As a former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guard – the powerful section of the armed forces devoted to the defence of Iran’s post-1979 theocratic order – Razaee is the only military figure who was allowed to run. While Razaee is seen as an ultraconservative hardliner, Iran observers regard him as less extreme than other figures who fit the same description.

Significantly, Rezaee studied economics at Tehran University during the Iran-Iraq War. During his tenure as head of the Revolutionary Guards in the 1990s, Rezaee drove forward their expansion into swaths of the Iranian economy, notably infrastructure and construction. This business and economics expertise could be a major asset in an election campaign marked by concern over the economic crisis wracking the country.

But Rezaee is a highly controversial figure abroad; he remains the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant as he is suspected of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires.

Member Bio image


The technocrat

Ideology: Reformist

Governor of the Central Bank of Iran from 2018 to 2021 – in the depths of the country’s economic crisis – Hemmati started off in business as the boss of several Iranian banks and insurance companies.

He has been the target of virulent attacks by his hardliner opponents, blaming him and Hassan Rouhani’s government for the crisis and nicknaming the ex-central banker “the weak Rouhani”.

Nevertheless, Hemmati could win over reformist votes if they decide to resist calls for a boycott. A close associate of Mohammad Javad Zarif – the dovish foreign minister who established a famous rapport with his then US counterpart John Kerry when negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal – Hemmati has promised to keep his friend in the post as Iran’s top diplomat if elected.

But Hemmati went furthest in showing his reformist credentials in early June, when he courted the theocrats’ wrath by saying he “mourned” the people killed in a violent clampdown on protests in November 2019, vowing to work for justice for them.

Member Bio image


MP for Shia holy city Qom

Ideology: Hardliner

Zakani is yet another candidate ideologically aligned with the ultraconservative frontrunner Raisi. MP for Qom – a holy city in Shia Islam and Iran’s main theological centre – he finally had his candidacy approved by the Guardian Council after it was rejected in 2005 and 2017.

Zakani boasts his own media platform as owner of hardline website Jahan News – and was a prominent opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Rouhani’s government. Although he has not ruled out negotiations with the West, Zakani endorses a much more hawkish stance than the current nuclear negotiation team. As a traditionalist, the Qom MP is a strong supporter of the Islamic Republic’s theocratic model, and therefore holds that “any negotiations will require the Supreme Leader’s approval”.

Member Bio image

Mohsen Mehralizadeh

Ex-Khatami vice president

Ideology: Reformist

Mehralizadeh is one of only two reformist candidates in contention, along with Hemmati – and is best known for serving as vice president to Mohammad Khatami, the most liberal Iranian president since the 1979 revolution, from 2001 to 2005.

Taking on Khatami’s reformist mantle, Mehralizadeh has vociferously criticised frontrunner Raisi on the campaign trail – notably when it comes to human rights, reminding the electorate of the latter’s alleged role in the mass execution of opposition supporters in 1988.

Mehralizadeh has also stated his opposition to the ban on female crowds in stadiums, while vowing to appoint three women to cabinet positions if elected.

Despite his reformist credentials, the ex-VP has avoided the theocrats’ vetoes before – with Khamenei himself intervening to ensure that the Guardians of the Council draft him in to the 2005 presidential race.

However, like Hemmati, Mehralizadeh will have to persuade many reformist voters to go to the ballot box in the face of calls for a boycott.

Member Bio image


The youngest of the ultraconservatives

Ideology: Hardliner

An ultraconservative MP representing Mashhad, a Shia holy city in northern Iran, the 50-year-old Ghazizadeh-Hashemi is the youngest of the presidential candidates. His relative youth is the main asset the little-known former surgeon is trying to project in the campaign.

Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – a former member of a fundamentalist party close to Ahmedinejad – has also tried to present the economy as his domain, despite a lack of experience in economics or business. The Iranian stock market has been in freefall for months, but Ghazizadeh-Hashemi promised to solve its problems “in three days”. He has offered a raft of more specific populist policies, including loans for young married couples. Ghazizadeh-Hashemi has also been noted for his reticence in the election campaign’s televised debates, merely stating his policy proposals.