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Iran’s Presidential Elections: What are Iranians Voting For?


The Iranian people will return to the polls on June 18, 2021, to elect a new President.  Discussion in the United States has centered primarily on how the elections and their outcome will affect U.S. policy and the chances of putting the JCPOA back together again. We forget that the Iranian elections are not about us. Flawed as they are, they remain one of the few shreds of near-democracy that have survived in the Islamic Republic.  Nor should we ignore the fact that the Iranian presidency, with a few exceptions, has been powerless for forty years.  The Supreme Leader decides policy and approves final decisions; the President – whoever it was – almost always implements those policies. Presidents have come and gone, but the old men’s club that has ruled Iran since 1979 remains in place, although natural death has thinned its ranks. Why would anyone want the job?

Other issues, such as the succession to aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, civil liberties, and economic hardship concern Iranians at least as much as the JCPOA. Although by no means free, Iran’s elections do provide a barometer of the wishes of the Iranian people for the future and a thermometer to gauge their willingness to endure the consequences of policy choices by their government.

What do Iranians, both street and leadership regard as the key issues in deciding which candidate to vote for?  Will the disqualification of certain candidates by the Guardian Council indicate the direction that the clerical establishment and the Supreme Leader want to take the country? Will successful reinstatement of the JCPOA affect either the selection of candidates or the outcome of the vote?

Featured Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Gissou Nia, Dr. Dina Esfandiary, and Maysam Behravesh.

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