Iran will be holding its 12th presidential elections on the 19th of May, 2017. The election will be held in two rounds: if no candidate obtains a majority of votes in the first round, the top two candidates will face off in the second round, similar to the system used in France.
Contrary to popular belief, Iran does have competitive elections, with traditionalist and reformist groups contending for power in a relatively democratic process. To first understand the election, one must understand the Iranian system of government. Iran is governed by a mixture of elected and unelected institutions: although the president is the leader of the executive branch, he (or potentially she) can only govern with the consent and support of the appointed supreme leader, a clerical religious figure.
Currently the main candidates of the Iranian election are as follows:
Hassan Rouhani – the incumbent President of Iran, Rouhani is running for a chance to serve his second term out of the maximum two allowed. Known as a reformist and a centrist, his accomplishments include signing the Iranian nuclear weapons deal in 2014 and encouraging political reform.
Ebrahim Raisi – the current Chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, an important clerical group in Iran, Raisi is an important figure in the Iranian justice system. He is a member of the Combatant Clergy Association, and is thus supportive of what could be vaguely described as right-wing ideology. Mostafa Mir-Salim – a conservative politician in Iran, he represents the Islamic Coalition Party. He was previously trained as an engineer.
Mostafa Hashemitaba – a Iranian politician also representing the Executives of Construction Party, Hashemitaba represents the centrist and more conservative wing of this reformist party. Party structures are not strong in Iran, so multiple candidates can run from each party or coalition as long as the guardian council endorses it.
The following candidates withdrew during the race.
Eshaq Jahangiri – the incumbent First Vice President of Iran (Iran has multiple Vice-Presidents), he is a member of the reformist Executives of Construction Party, which advocates for a generally free-market approach. He is described as a “fender candidate” for Rouhani – he withdrew in favor of him. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf – an Iranian conservative politician, he currently serves as the mayor of Tehran, the capital of Iran. He was the runner-up to current president Rouhani in the presidential election of 2013. He lost greatly in the polls during the election, and withdrew in favor of Ebrahim Raisi.
The following candidates were not approved by the Guardian Council:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the President of Iran from 2005-2013, Ahmadinejad is a prominent leader of the Iranian conservatives. Having previously supported Hamid Baqai in his campaign, and been advised not to run by the current Supreme Leader, he announced on April 12th that he would indeed run. His candidacy remains uncertain for now. Hamid Baghaei (Hamid Baqai) – A close confidant of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former vice-president, Baghaei is the first choice of this influential leader of the conservative faction. However, with Ahmadinejad’s announcement that he would be running, this support is in doubt.
Keeping in mind that Iranian polls are notoriously bad, and that there is a VERY spare amount of data available, these figures could vary by as much as 15%
Currently, Rouhani holds the upper hand, but he faces several major hurdles. With both Ghalibaf and Raisi joining together under the same roof, the conservatives have consolidated together under a single candidate, giving them a serious chance of competing for first. Thus, in the case of a Rouhani-Raisi matchup in the second round, there is the distinct possibility that the remaining conservatives might cluster around a single candidate, and cause Rouhani to lose.
Currently, Rouhani’s path to victory lies with either gaining a majority in the first round (which he does 43% of the time in scenarios), or winning the election in the second round, which is less than likely. For Raisi, his path lies in forcing Rouhani to the second round, which he would be likely to win. The race is very much like the US presidential election in 2016, but with a lot more sparse and uncertain polls. With Ghalibaf’s recent withdrawal from the race, the entire electoral landscape is uncertain.
Under normal circumstances, a 15-point lead in the polls implies a candidate is doomed. In this case, with such sparse data, the best estimates we have show momentum gathering behind Raisi, thus assigning him a higher chance of victory than he would under usual circumstances.