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After Raisi funeral, Iran's focus turns to vote for successor

Tuesday, 28 May, 2024 , 05:36

Tehran, May 28, 2024 (AFP) — After Iran mourned president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a recent helicopter crash, the nation's focus turns to an election next month for his successor, with the conservative camp seeking a loyalist to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The lead-up to the early vote on June 28 has opened up the field to a broad range of hopefuls from all political parties. The big question for them is how many candidacies will survive the vetting process in the Islamic republic.

Ultraconservative Raisi, who had more than a year left of his first term, died on May 19 alongside his foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and six others when their helicopter crashed into a fog-shrouded mountainside.

They were laid to rest in multi-day funeral rites drawing mass crowds of mourners.

The June vote will be held during a turbulent time, as the Gaza war rages between Iran's arch-foe Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, and amid continued diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran also faces sustained economic hardship, exacerbated by tough international sanctions reimposed after the United States withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, and in the aftermath of widespread anti-government protests.

Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state, has assigned Raisi's vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, 68, to assume interim duties for the next few weeks and organise the June election.

Media reports suggest Mokhber himself plans to run for Iran's second-highest post, as do parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and several prominent former officials.

Among other hopefuls, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was one of the first to announce his candidacy.

Other contenders include moderate former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and centrist Ali Larijani, who served as the speaker in parliament.

Populist ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has so far kept voters guessing and said he is "checking the conditions to decide whether to register".

"We have to wait for positive developments in the country," he added.

- Vetting process -

Iran was rocked from late 2022 by nationwide protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, following her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the strict dress code for women.

Hundreds of people including dozens of security personnel were killed and thousands were arrested.

Political expert Abbas Abdi told the reformist newspaper Hammihan that if Iran's "protesting community" sees an opportunity for change, it "will show its protest, activism and responsibility through participating in the election".

He said that he was "sure that the reformists will win with a huge margin", but only if they are allowed to participate -- a major concern after many candidates were disqualified ahead of recent elections.

Abdi added that if the authorities permit a broad spectrum of candidates to run this time, "it will create the necessary hope in the people and lead to high participation".

Under Iran's election process, candidates will have several days to formally register, starting on May 30.

The final list, however, will depend on the outcome of the validation process by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council following a June 3 registration deadline.

The 12-member body, which is in charge of overseeing elections, had previously barred many candidates, among them Ahmadinejad and Larijani.

Recent parliamentary and presidential elections have seen plunging turnout, despite efforts by the authorities to encourage people to vote.

Ahead of Iran's parliamentary elections held on March 1, the Guardian Council disqualified tens of thousands of candidates.

With many of them reformists and moderates, the vetting effectively helped Iran's conservative and ultraconservative politicians tighten their grip on power.

The March legislative vote saw the lowest turnout since 1979.

- Low voter turnout -

The 2021 election that brought Raisi to power also saw many reformist and moderate figures disqualified from the race, and the turnout hit a record low for any presidential polls in Iran.

During his years in office, Raisi faced a barrage of criticism from former officials and activists, including over his handling of an already fragile economy.

Raging inflation, rampant unemployment and record currency depreciation dogged Raisi's presidency, while his government failed to clinch a deal with Washington to revive the nuclear deal and lift sanctions.

He also faced criticism for the government's handling of the street protests sparked by Amini's death.

More recently, spillover from the Gaza war saw tensions with Israel skyrocket and climax in mid-April when Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack against Israel.

Iranian forces and allied groups unleashed hundreds of drones and missiles, most of which were intercepted by Israel and its partners.

Amid all the turmoil, Iran's leaders have urged a calm election process.

On Monday, the new parliament started its first session with a message from Khamenei calling on the lawmakers to keep away from "useless media contests and harmful political controversies".