On Saturday, May 15, the Islamic Republic’s chief justice Ebrahim Raisi registered as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Raisi is standing on the same ticket as he did in 2017, with a manifesto that includes “fighting corruption”, “caring for the downtrodden and the underprivileged” and “achieving stable employment”. In other words, a pale imitation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s manifesto and one that won Raisi a large number of votes in 2017 but, ultimately, failed to win him the presidency.

Speculation about Raisi’s candidacy was renewed on May 8 when Saeed Mohammad, a Revolutionary Guards commander who is also running for president, publicly claimed that the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had not given Raisi “permission” to stand. Raisi’s supporters, however, claimed in a Clubhouse chat room that Khamenei had agreed, and went on to announce his campaign manager’s name and campaign slogan.

The main issues here are Raisi’s current position as the head of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, and the question of who will be successor to Khamenei as the Supreme Leader. Khamenei’s policy has been to appoint the heads of the institutions under his control, including the judiciary, for 10 years whereas Raisi has been in his post for fewer than three.

Raisi’s name has often been cited as a potential successor to Khamenei. But, unlike Khamenei, who never lost an election before his elevation to Supreme Leader, Ebrahim Raisi has an electoral defeat on his record. If he loses the upcoming presidential election as well, he would lose more popular appeal as a candidate to succeed Khamenei. In other words, the candidacy is a big gamble for him.

Is Raisi “Young” Enough?

In the past couple of years Iran’s conservatives have echoed Khamenei’s call for a “young revolutionary” government. Some analysts say Khamenei fancies another government like that of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, minus the explosive finale, of course. Others believe he wants to give the reins of executive power to the Revolutionary Guards so that, with a compliant parliament, he can live out the remainder of his life and tenure in relative peace.

But, in a meeting with a handpicked group of students on May 11, the day registration opened, Khamenei qualified his earlier statements: “Some thought a young revolutionary government meant a government whose members would all be in the age groups between 30 and 35. But this was not meant as a rejection of experienced people and veterans.”

A few hours before the media reported these statements by Khamenei, Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, published an exclusive report that concluded Raisi’s candidacy was “certain”.

As such, Khamenei’s new definition of a “young” government was seen as a tacit agreement with Raisi’s candidacy. And, the following day, a number of principalist websites presented Khamenei’s “important statements about the election” in an eight-point list. The very first item on the list was that “a revolutionary young government does not exclusively belong to those from 30 to 35.” Thus the groundwork for the candidacy of the 61-year-old Ebrahim Raisi was laid.

The Issue of “Consensus”

Ever since the 1997 presidential candidacy of Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, who was then the most popular candidate among conservatives, the principalists have had the problem of arriving at a consensus over their candidates. In many ways, Raisi’s candidacy both resolves the issue of consensus for principalists and makes their chances of victory stronger.

In the past few days, it has been announced that Saeed Jalili, former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former mayor of Tehran and current speaker of the parliament, would not register as candidate and would support Raisi instead.

Of course, it is possible that Revolutionary Guards commanders such as Saeed Mohammad, Hossein Dehghan and Rostam Ghasemi might withdraw their candidacy if they are so ordered by their superiors. But it appears that figures such as Ali Larijani, a former speaker of the parliament who just registered his candidacy, will not withdraw under any circumstances unless, of course, the Guardian Council disqualifies them.

Declaring that Raisi and Larijani were the two main contenders for the presidency, the Young Journalists Club, an affiliate of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, posed this question: “Would Larijani agree to represent the reformist faction?” and “Would he risk a break with the political system?”

Months of Preparation

The groundwork for Raisi’s candidacy was not only laid in the past couple of months. For quite some time now, the main media outlets of the regime, including IRIB, have tried to burnish his reputation for candidacy.

The volume of news coverage Raisi has been so overwhelming that even some principalists have criticized it. Most recently, the cleric Mohammad Reza Zaeri said: “TV is presenting Mr. Raisi in such a way that we shouldn’t be surprised if they interview him in a program about cooking or a nature documentary about Iran. The only thing that remains is for him to read fairytales in a children’s program.”

In the last presidential election, which Raisi lost, propaganda about him by official institutions and the IRIB revolved around his charity work and the Friday Prayers that he led. But since he took over the judiciary, the volume of coverage seeking to portray him as a crusader against corruption and a champion of justice has increased considerably.

In a move that has little precedent, conservative websites also recently published pictures of him reviewing the military. All of this is intended to encourage the public to accept him as their president and, perhaps, as the eventual Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.

The principalists are already celebrating Raisi’s victory ahead of the election but, if past elections are any indication, nothing is foreordained.

Related Coverage:

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