Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff 

INU - Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has been holding presidential elections every four years. Western media often portray elections in Iran as a struggle between political parties as is the norm in their own countries.

However, there are key differences between elections in Iran and western democracies. A deeper look at the process and dynamics involved in selecting the country's president suggest why there's a strong belief any form of elections in Iran are a sham and the power to rule the country lies elsewhere.

Here's what you need to know about Iran's President and the presidential elections.

The Role of the President

In Iran, the President is the second-highest ranking official after the Supreme Leader, who has the final say in all major state affairs. The President's powers are limited by the clerics in the country's power structure and by the authority of the Supreme Leader. It is the Supreme Leader—not the elected President—who controls Iran's armed forces and makes decisions on security, defence, and key foreign-policy issues.

The President has some say in the level of media freedom and political openness. However, he can be overruled by the clerical establishment via the Judiciary or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Presidents serve four-year terms and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.

Vetting of Candidates

Candidates are vetted by the Election Monitoring Committee of the Guardian Council and it is they who select the handful of candidates who may run for office. In the election of 2013, 680 people applied and the Committee quickly narrowed it down to just eight candidates.

There are general requirements for candidacy which include: being a citizen of Iranian origin; over 18 years of age; a Muslim; qualified to be a care-taker of the Republic; and a possessor of both management abilities and a record of religious and political affiliation to the ‘Republic’.

All candidates in the regime are required by law to exhibit "heart-felt and practical allegiance" to absolute clerical rule as a prerequisite for their candidacy. That allegiance is determined by the Guardian Council whose six clerics are installed by the Supreme Leader while the remaining six jurists are appointed by the Head of the Judiciary who is selected by the Supreme Leader.

According to Scott Lucas, an Iran specialist at Britain's Birmingham University, the Guardians Council's decisions are based more on political loyalties than the credentials of the candidates.

This effectively prevents opposition forces or anyone with fundamentally different political views from taking part in the political process. Lack of inclusiveness in elections is one of the factors that is casting a shadow on Iran’s human rights record.

As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran says, "Democratic elections, where people are afforded a real choice to pick their leaders, are non-existent in today's Iran; the genuine opposition has no political voice. What currently exists is a constricted power struggle through sham elections whose outcome is shaped not by popular vote but by the regime's internal balance of power."

Registration and Campaigning

The election period is short in Iran—just 20 days. The election is scheduled for May 19 and candidates can only register between April 10 and 14. The final list of candidates is published ten days later on April 24. Campaigning begins on April 27 and runs until two days before the election on May 19. Results are announced the next day, and the inauguration takes place on August 1.

In 2009, widespread protests erupted after it became evident that the ruling elite had rigged the presidential elections in its favor. Security forces brutally cracked down on protesters. Since then, the establishment has taken a number of steps to ensure that the election does not serve as a catalyst to popular protest. Security measures have been tightened, and the media, both foreign and domestic, even more suppressed, with journalists imprisoned.

The Ballot

In Iran, there is no voter registration or roll. Iranians can vote anywhere as long as they present their national identification book, or Shenasnameh, which is stamped at the polling station. 

Once the polling stations are closed, the counting process begins. Neither the general public nor any civil society organisation is permitted to monitor the count. This makes it very difficult to audit election results and ensure the integrity of the vote. 

The Iranian President is determined through an absolute majority. In other words, the person with 50%+1 of the votes is the winner. However, in cases where there is no absolute majority, the law calls for a runoff election between the top two. The runoff election is mandated to take place within one week of the first round of elections.

Once a winner is determined, the Guardian Council approves the election process and the Supreme Leader signs off on the Letter of Presidency. The new President takes the oath of office before the Iranian Majles (Parliament).

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