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Editorial: Pensive in Persepolis

Iran's Shiite theocracy is optimistic about seeing the elections through, considering how recent votes witnessed record-low turnout

Editorial: Pensive in Persepolis

Iran President Ebrahim Raisi

Last week, Iran's Guardian Council approved Tehran’s hard-line parliament speaker and five others to run in the country's presidential election slated to be held on June 28. This comes in the wake of the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month. The council has once again barred former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running. The Holocaust-denying, firebrand populist had been vocal in challenging the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei toward the end of his term and is infamous for his bloody crackdown on the 2009 Green Movement protests.

The council's decision signals the start of a short-handed, two-week campaign aimed at finding a replacement for Raisi, who was a hard-line protege of Khamenei, and was once floated as a possible successor for the 85-year-old cleric. The selection of candidates approved by the Council, a panel of clerics and jurists overseen by Khamenei, is in line with Tehran's insistence on maintaining the status quo, vis-a-vis ideology. In a long-held tradition, the leadership has refrained from accepting the candidature of a woman, or even anyone calling for radical change to the country's governance.

Iran's Shiite theocracy is optimistic about seeing the elections through, considering how recent votes witnessed record-low turnout. The election has come at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its arming of Russia in its war on Ukraine. Tehran's support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East has been highlighted as Yemen's Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. The country is being pummeled by sanctions by the US and other Western nations over its rapidly-advancing nuclear programme, which now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

It might be recalled that Raisi’s regime had witnessed a significant transition from the Hasan Rouhani period when Iran had pursued a dialogue with the West and landed upon a nuclear deal in 2015, which was eventually sabotaged by the US three years later. Raisi’s rule was also noted for Tehran seeking closer strategic and economic cooperation with allies such as Russia and China, and amping up its support for non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthi rebels. Tehran’s policy towards Tel Aviv had also taken a turn for the worse as it mounted a series of drone and missile attacks in April after Israeli rockets struck the Iranian diplomatic mission in Syria.

One pressing concern is regarding the hardening of Tehran’s policy with regard to Israel’s military engagement in Gaza. Authoritarian regimes are often known for weaponising foreign policy with a view to curry favour with kingmakers on the home turf. Consolidating the regime by pursuing a radical approach might not work for Tehran, considering the prevalent economic scenario. Analysts surmise that with the near-direct conflict encompassing Iran and Israel, Washington must tread cautiously. Owing to the uncertainty pertaining to the bent of the incoming leadership in Iran, the US must adopt a tactic of discernment to avoid a sharp flare-up in the already volatile zone. Raisi’s passing could precipitate a succession crisis for the administration.

However, as far as the long-suffering citizens of the country are concerned, the chances that a moderate candidate will be brought in as a replacement are next to zero. That’s also why it might be more relevant, at least at this point in time, to keep a watch over Tehran’s domestic policies as opposed to its foreign policy and strategies towards West Asia.

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