Ibrahim Raeesi: Iran’s President-Elect or Beholden to IRGC?
, unlike the previous elections, this presidential election of Iran is probably the watershed moment in the history of the Islamic Republic. As the second phase of the revolution is unfolding according to the statements of Khamenei, and the region is witnessing the transformation in Arab-Israel relations, the Iranian state is anticipated to be more confrontationist in its foreign policy and hardliner domestically
Ibrahim Raeesi, the current chief justice of Iran and the presidential candidate in 2017, have won the Iranian Presidential Elections 2021 after garnering 62 percent of the casted votes. The elections in which the turnout remained below 50 percent have been the most uncontested and unpopular elections of Iran since the establishment of Islamic Republic in 1979. The credentials of Raeesi, being closed to the religious circles (ultra-conservatives), having ties with hardliners and IRGC, and finally being close to the Supreme Leader himself, was deemed favourite even before the elections. His success in this election also paved the way for his ascendency to the successorship of the current leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei. However, the low turnout highlighted that his popularity is widely contested among the Iranian masses, making him the weakest president-elect of the past 40 years.
Iran’s parliamentary elections of 2020 had set the political course of Iranian politics for the coming years, especially for the upcoming 2021 presidential elections. The seat of presidency plays a crucial role in the hierarchy of Iranian state. Being the second most important position after the Supreme Leader, the president of Iran executes the authority over the republican sector of the Iranian state (the other one is the theocratic sector). Last year’s parliamentary elections with the lowest turnout of 42 percent since the revolution, was dominated by the hardliner politicians of the larger principalist faction. The triumph of hardliners not only announced the diminishing role of moderate-reformist nexus but it also reflected the militarization of Iranian politics. Unlike the traditional dominance of conservatives of the principalist faction, the victory of IRGC-linked politicians (hardliners) provided the arena for the IRGC to bolster its influence in the Iranian politics.
In the recent years and especially since the onset of year 2020, Iran has been struggling both internally and regionally to overcome the economic, security and strategic challenges. Under these circumstances, the domestic and regional impact of Iranian presidential elections would be immense. Furthermore, the implication of this presidential election is directly related to the office of the Supreme Leader. As the IRGC-favoured candidate have won, it would most likely be the prelude of electing a hardliner yet a relatively weak cleric as the next leader who would rely on IRGC to consolidate his position in the system. Especially in the foreign policy domain, Iran is expected to become more confrontationist and assertive towards the Western interests in the region. The foreign policy of Iran under Raeesi is expected to be xenophobic against the West. Unlike the popular opinion which suggest that US-Iran relations could see a boost in post-Vienna negotiations over the JCPOA, it is noteworthy that the election of ultra-nationalist Neftali Bennet in Israel and the ultraconservative Raeesi in Iran would lead to further confrontation between the two regional rivals. Given the US unwavering support to Israel, it is unlikely that the US would concede to foster better ties with Iran and vice versa.
Conclusively, unlike the previous elections, this presidential election of Iran is probably the watershed moment in the history of the Islamic Republic. As the second phase of the revolution is unfolding according to the statements of Khamenei, and the region is witnessing the transformation in Arab-Israel relations, the Iranian state is anticipated to be more confrontationist in its foreign policy and hardliner domestically. The increasing pressure of the West over the Iranian economy, attacks on Iranian nuclear sites and the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, have also provided the impetus for IRGC to domestically stabilize the political environment in which the opposition could be easily side-lined. As the parliament is already under the influence of IRGC-affiliated candidates, especially the speaker Baqir Qalibaf who have links with the IRGC, and now the president who is also closely associated with the Revolutionary Guards and being unpopular, would depend upon the support of the establishment, Iran’s transformation from the theocratic republic to quasi autocratic state is highly probable.
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