Iran clears final names for presidential elections
Iran’s government on May 25 unveiled a list of seven contenders that are cleared to compete on the campaign trail ahead of the June presidential election.
A moderate, current president Hassan Rouhani is unable to run because of term limits. Vetting of his would-be successors by the Guardian Council, a clerical body chosen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, began May 16. The approved candidates are Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raeisi, Mohsen Rezaei, Alireza Zakani, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Albdolnasser Hemmati and Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh.
Ebrahim Raeisi, a conservative cleric with a legacy in the Iranian judicial system, is among the favourites to win. He was defeated handily by Rouhani in the 2017 contest, but is considered to be the eventual successor to the 81-year-old Khamenei, who is supporting his presidential bid at a time when Tehran is moving away from a more moderate political track.
Khamenei, as supreme leader, makes foreign policy decisions for the theocratic government.
Saeed Jalili is a former deputy foreign minister and a conservative with no clerical credentials. His support for advancing Iranian nuclear ambitions as a foreign negotiator for Tehran could complicate efforts to restore the multilateral nuclear agreement that Western diplomats are racing to revive.
A former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohsen Rezaei is a frequent candidate from the conservatives in the Iranian political scene.
Another conservative, Alireza Zakani is a member of parliament heavily involved in the Iranian media landscape.
Following suspected Israeli involvement in an April attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, deputy speaker of parliament Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi suggested Tehran walk away from the negotiating table unless Israel was punished.
Albdolnasser Hemmati is the head of the Iranian Central Bank. In the Tehran Times, Hemmati said last week that one of the major problems for the Iranian economy was the underdevelopment of financial and capital markets. According to the latest estimates from the International Monetary Fund, Iran can expect GDP growth of around 3.5% this year, though inflation is running hot at 39%.
A reformist in the vein of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, whose loss to conservative former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 triggered the so-called Green Revolution, Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh, a former provincial governor, rounds out the list. His candidacy in 2005 was supported by Khamenei amid fears of a reformist boycott of elections that year.
"A lot of Iran watchers seem to think we're set for a more conservative presidency than Rouhani’s," Ian Simm, principal advisor at IGM Energy, tells NGW. "This became more likely with the exclusion of relative centrists like Ali Larijani and Eshaq Jahangiri, which concerned even the hardliners’ top candidate Ebrahim Raisi who appears to have Supreme Leader Khamenei’s vote and is rumoured to be lined up as his eventual replacement."
Iranian elections come at a pivotal time for the Islamic republic. Nuclear negotiations have so far yielded a preliminary understanding that could see Iran freed from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for scaling back its nuclear ambitions. That sanctions relief would see more Iranian oil on the market at a time when OPEC, of which Iran is a member, is working to balance the market with production restraints.
Apart from oil, Iran holds vast natural gas reserves – estimated in BP's Statistical Review of World Energy at 32 trillion m3 proven. Tehran has said in the past that these reserves could help support energy security in the European and Asian economies. But under sanctions, which have made it harder for Iran to reach out to international partners, commercialising this wealth has been difficult.
In mid-May, a state-owned subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), Petropars, secured a $1.78bn contract to develop the Farzad-B gas field in the Persian Gulf, originally discovered by India's ONGC Videsh (OVL) in 2008. OVL had been seeking a contract to exploit the field, but it was unable to agree terms with Tehran and then the introduction of US sanctions in 2018 made a partnership no longer possible.
Farzad-B is expected to produce 28mn m3/day of sour gas over five years from reserves shared with Saudi Arabia, which has recently warmed to its arch rivals in Tehran. NIOC estimates the field's reserves at 23 trillion ft3 (651bn m3) of in-place gas and 115mn barrels of condensate. Its production will be processed at facilities at South Pars.
The award to Petropars suggests Tehran wants to go ahead with Farzad-B on its own, even though the US is expected to rejoin the JCPOA and ease sanctions under president Joe Biden. The lifting of sanctions could pave the way for foreign companies like OVL to join the project at some stage, and others like it in Iran. Another key area where Tehran has courted international investors in the past is the Caspian Sea, which contains the large but geologically complex Sardar-E-Jangal field.