On 19 June, Ebrahim Raisi won the popular vote to become the eighth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although he promises to champion economic prosperity and fight corruption, many are complaining that the election was not competitive and fraudulent. Amidst great economic hardship throughout Iran and continued nuclear negotiations, Raisi’s presidency will have a great impact both domestically and internationally.
The June election was under attack before votes were even cast. In Iran, every candidate must be approved by the Guardian Council—a group of six clerics and six jurists responsible for overseeing elections and parliamentary legislation. Al Jazeera reports that in early May, the Council changed its eligibility rule, allowing only “candidates aged between 40 and 75, who have no criminal record – including political dissent – [with] at least four years of senior executive leadership experience.” This disqualified certain candidates, including outspoken reformists and a previous president. The Council ultimately approved only seven of 592 candidates: all men and the majority hardline conservatives. Calls for election boycotts followed and current President, Houssan Rouhani, requested more moderates and reformists. Even Raisi advocated to increase competition, but since a win was almost guaranteed, given his close relations with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, this may have been to increase his own legitimacy.
Electoral corruption in Iran is nothing new. According to the Middle East Eye, “just over one percent of people who registered as would-be candidates since 1981 have been approved to be on the ballots.” With the Supreme Leader holding appointment power over the Guardian Council clerics and Chief Justice, and the ability to approve candidates through executive order, elections will never be competitive. Although the election process is considered democratic, Iranian elections have repeatedly produced dubious results; the 2009 election declared a victor before the votes could be counted, leading to the violent Green Movement protests. Citizens have little recourse, as political dissent is often promptly and violently crushed, violating Iranians’ protected right to assembly and expression. In response, Iranians stopped voting in protest, after seeing the lack of influence with their votes; this election’s voter turnout was under 49%, the lowest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Aside from discontent with candidates, many Iranians also oppose Raisi. He was appointed as Chief Justice by Khamenei, studied under him at the seminary, and is largely considered his successor. The results seem yet another example of nepotism in Iran’s government. Furthermore, Raisi was a member of the “death commission,” which executed thousands of political prisoners following the Iran-Iraq War, and involved in the court’s controversial protest crackdowns post-2009. The United States has sanctioned Raisi for human rights abuses in both situations. This makes him the only Iranian president under their sanctions while in office, and guarantees further strain on U.S.-Iran relations. Despite his promises, how can Raisi be expected to fight corruption if he is engrossed in it?
Outside of Iran, Raisi is already prominent in world politics. Although a seventh round of negotiations to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal closed unsuccessfully last weekend, Raisi holds the key to an agreement. Iran already refused to rejoin unless the U.S. lifts all economic sanctions, with Raisi adding their ballistic missile program was “nonnegotiable,” and rejecting any developments to the original JCPOA. He also refused to meet with President Joe Biden, dampening hopes of progress on the deal.
Iran’s election raises red flags for the international community. Fair and open democratic elections must be guaranteed. Global organizations should pressure Iran to reform its election processes and uphold universal human rights. Additionally, all JCPOA signatories must find a way to enact a nuclear deal promptly. Although the original JCPOA needs reform, it is better to reimplement baseline restrictions than to allow unbridled Iranian nuclear development. With Raisi’s hardline position, world powers must find a way to compromise with Iran without acceding safety standards, in order to protect global security. Electoral corruption, human rights violations, and nuclear proliferation have become increasingly common throughout the world. All democratic states and humanitarian organizations must discourage and combat Iran’s unjust practices in these realms as an example to other nations and in the interest of global peace.
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