Iranians on Friday will vote in a presidential election with no clear frontrunner and the turnout for which could demonstrate whether the wounds left by the 2009 elections, which saw violent street protests, have healed.
After a dull start, electioneering surged toward the tail end of the campaign. There has been a burst of enthusiasm in the reformist camp after former Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani endorsed the candidacy of Hassan Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator known for his centrist rather than pro-reform leanings.
The reformists’ backing of Mr. Rohani’s has also invigorated the conservatives, whose votes could get seriously divided among three contestants — Saeed Jalili, Ali Akbar Velayati and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
Yet, it is far from clear whether the spirited rearguard support for Mr. Rohani would be sufficient to carry him over the line. In the past, the votes of the 10-million-strong Basij paramilitary and supporters of influential clerics have given conservative candidates a head start. Mr. Rohani would have to reach substantially beyond the support of die-hard reformists to savour success.
Analysts say none of the candidates may cross the 50-per-cent-vote threshold, resulting in a run-off between the top two candidates. Citing opinion polls, not necessarily reputed for their authenticity, Iran’s English-language Press TV is saying the election will head for a run-off.
If that happens, the candidate securing a simple majority in the second round will win, pending the approval of the Guardian Council — a body that functions under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The runoff is usually held within 7-10 days of the declaration of the first round results.
As the campaign winded down, the Supreme Leader seemed fixated with the bigger picture — of demonstrating the legitimacy of the state through a credible turnout at polling stations. “High voter turnout is more important than anything else for the country, and the nation with its powerful move on Friday will prove its strong connection and bond with the Islamic establishment and once again defeat and disappoint the enemy,” he said on Wednesday in Tehran.
While Mr. Rohani’s campaign gathered steam, Mr. Jalili seems to have the edge in the conservative camp over Mr. Velayati, a former Foreign Minister, and Mr. Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran. Mr. Jalili has the advantage of apparent support within the powerful Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Mr. Jalili can well relate to the IRGC because of his credentials as a war veteran — he lost a lower leg during the horrific Karbala 5 campaign of the Iran-Iraq war.
Observers say that the head of Iran’s National Security Council is part of a group of “pious technocrats” who have emerged in the public fray following their education in institutions such as the Imam Sadeq University. These universities have uniquely tried to blend teachings of seminaries with modern education.
Mr. Jalili has also been endorsed by the influential cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is not only a heavyweight in the seminary circles of Qom but also within the ranks of IRGC. A younger group of followers of Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, represented by the Jebhe Paydari (Steadfast Front), is also backing Mr. Jalili. Mr. Jalili’s supporters are hyper-active on the social media circuit, using Facebook and Twitter to telling effect.
Mr. Jalili’s path as the prime conservative candidate is being blocked by Mr. Velayati — a far more urbane and experienced diplomat but who may appear too elitist to the ordinary voter and may not have sufficient fire power to make an impact in Iran’s labyrinthine centres of powers.