Fatima al-Samadi

Who's who of Iran's elections

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many names stand out when talking about the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, but some candidacies are more important for Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.


Most potential candidates are hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but there are some from incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s movement, especially if the candidacy of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the president’s advisor and brother-in-law, is approved.   


Things are still unclear within the reformist spectrum. A meeting was held between Khamenei and three reformist figures, and there have been rumors about a potential meeting between the Supreme Leader and former Iranian President and reformist leader Mohammad Khatami.


Hereunder is information about potential candidates:


Saeed Jalili

His name was mentioned as a potential right-wing candidate, but the man who lost a leg during the Iran-Iraq War and is widely respected in policy circles as well as among the public still has detractors, minimizing his chances of victory even within the extremist movement. Many – including influential figures within the right wing – believe that Jalili does not have the necessary support and that many would not vote for him. According to his foes, his talks on Iran’s nuclear program with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton did not help Iran, as the UN Security Council has issued six resolutions against the country.


Hassan Rohani

Rohani was the chief negotiator in the 2003 talks on Iran’s nuclear program with three European countries (Great Britain, France and Germany), which led to Iran’s accepting to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Despite his harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad’s policies, Rohani is not widely accepted in reformist circles. Even though he is Khamenei’s representative to the National Security Council and a member of the Assembly of Experts, his role in nuclear talks has left him unpopular with right-wingers.


Ali Larijani

Laijani ran in the 2005 presidential elections and came in sixth. In the second round of elections, he supported former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is a close ally of Khamenei and is a member of every committee established by the Supreme Leader, and is one of Khamenei’s representatives on the National Security Council.  


Larijani was also a chief nuclear negotiator with the West, and he managed to move the focus of diplomatic action from the Foreign Affairs Ministry to the National Security Council.


During the fall of 2007, his conflict with President Ahmadinejad broadened around the best way to run the nuclear talks, ultimately leading to him being dismissed from his position as chief negotiator. Larijani then ran for election on the Shura Council with the support of influential religious figures in the city of Qom, and handily took the position of speaker.


Larijani’s conflict with Ahmadinejad grew worse during the president’s second term, as Larijani supported Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.


Larijani is also a key figure in the Revolutionary Guards and was the director general of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).


Yet despite having the support of three out of four traditional reference figures in Qom and hailing from a family with religious standing, he is not greatly popular in major cities and within the right wing.


Ali Akbar Velayati

Velayati was first appointed as the foreign minister of Iran during PM Mir Hossein Mousavi’s cabinet and Ali Khamenei’s presidential term in 1981. He wanted to resign in 1984, but Khamenei refused to allow him to, so as not to give the international community the impression that Iran’s foreign policy was inclined to change.


Velayati was an important foreign policy player and used the doctrine of “neither pro-East, nor pro-West” in addition to the idea of exporting the Islamic Revolution.


Due to his conservative style at the helm of Iran’s foreign policy, he withdrew from President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government and became Khamenei’s international affairs advisor. Velayati is regarded today as one of the strongest potential candidates, albeit one who will run only with Khamenei’s blessing.


Ali Akbar Salehi

The current Iranian foreign minister is widely liked in Iran and is reportedly close to Khamenei, and played a key role in the recent Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran. Salehi, who holds a PhD in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became foreign minister in 2010 and has retained his position at the helm of Iran’s nuclear power organization. He previously served under President Khatami as Iran’s delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Hooshang Amirahmadi

He is a professor at Rutgers University in the US and is the director of the American Iranian Council. Nicknamed “the sponsor of restoring ties” with the United States, he has declared his readiness to run for the Iranian presidential elections.


His name has been mentioned as part of the so-called Iranian lobby in the United States. Amirahmadi believes that the US impression of Iran seeking to expand its nuclear weapons is based on “mistaken and weak pretexts.”


Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf

Ghalibaf was the director of General Security and is said to have introduced improvements, including in prison conditions. Moreover, he served as special presidential representative and chaired the anti-smuggling department. He ran in the 2005 elections and was criticized because of “[excessive] splendor in his electoral campaign.”


Ghalibaf used his influence over Hamshahri, one of the most widely distributed Iranian newspapers, to attack Ahmadinejad, arguing that Iran is locked in a political and economic crisis.


Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei

For all the controversial statements imputed to Mashaei, including about “friendship with Israel,” he is close to Ahmadinejad, his brother-in-law. Mashaei served as the Iranian president’s top adviser and first vice president until he was removed from office on April 9, 2011. He is described as pragmatic, a moderate conservative and a religious nationalist.


Extremists consider Mashaei a troublemaker and a political burden. In 2007, he attended a controversial ceremony in Turkey during which a dancer performed, causing a stir. In 2008, he hosted a ceremony in Tehran during which several women played the tambour while another woman stood on the rostrum holding the Quran and reading verses. This drew angry reactions among extremists, who said Mashaei was “unworthy of reading verses of the Quran.”


However, in 2010, Mashaei said that Iran’s ideology, Shiite Islam, should be promoted worldwide. He asserted that Iran only recognizes “the pure Islam practiced in Iran rather than Islam as interpreted in other countries,” causing angry reactions from critics. Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said that his statements were “a crime against national security,” and Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, the speaker of Tehran University, said that “equating the Iranian school to the school of Islam is tantamount to pagan nationalism, which the people of Iran have never accepted.”


Mashaei was forced to step down from his position as vice president and served in 17 different governmental positions. Clerics accuse Mashaei of hampering Ahmadinejad’s agenda, and rumor has it that he was biased in favor of the leaders of the Green Movement. Some political analysts say Ahmadinejad is backing Mashaei’s candidacy for the presidency. This would allow the current president to bolster his influence in governmental affairs so that he can run for office again. Mashaei's supporters have launched websites and blogs in his favor.


Gholam Hossein Elham

Elham is a lawyer, jurist and spokesperson for Ahmadinejad’s government. He served as minister of justice and as secretary of the Goods and Foreign Exchange Anti-Smuggling Headquarters in addition to being a member of the scientific board of the University of Tehran’s Law School. Many websites have started mentioning his name as a potential candidate.


Ali Nikzad

Nikzad is the minister of Transportation, Housing and Urban Building. Political and media circles have started referring to him as a potential presidential candidate, and he has not denied that he intends to file his candidacy.


This article is a translation of the original Arabic

Potential candidate Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Things are still unclear within the reformist spectrum.