Current President Rouhani secured Iran’s Nuclear Deal, the JPCOA, with 6 world powers, including the US.  It was believed to be a positive development by many Iranians, as it lifted various economic sanctions and opened up the possibility of bringing foreign investment into Iran, which would have a positive impact on employment and the economy. 

However, stories continue to filter out of Iran about the billions of dollars that were released as part of the agreement being spent on Iran’s military objectives, instead of its people.  Business continue to shut down, and workers that aren’t being paid a fair wage.

“The gap between rich and poor has widened in Iran…” said Ebrahim Raisi. “Monthly cash handouts to poor people should be tripled.” Raisi, a candidate in the election, rose to prominence in the Iranian judiciary, but was also part of the 1988 “Death Commission” who ordered the deaths of thousands of political prisoners. Raisi continued, “One of the main priorities of the Islamic Republic is to preserve social justice…Steps should be taken to protect poor people. We need to overhaul the economic system.”

His position is interesting because of statements made about the corruption within the Iranian government, such as one made recently by Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran, “The government of Iran in 2016 loaned 530,000 billion of Tomans (about 140 billion dollars) and nobody knows who they are.” Ghalibaf added, “The wealth and power of the Iranian society is in the hands of 4% of the population.” 

According to the International Monetary Funds’ statistics, Iran’s real gross domestic product grew by 7.4% over the past year, driven mainly by oil exports, not job-creating investment. Officially, unemployment is at just over 12%, however, independent analysts put it at around 20%. 

Rouhani says that foreign investors are key to economic growth, yet foreign investors are reluctant to do business with Iran because of a variety of reasons: 

• First is the United States, who lifted some sanctions, but kept many more in place. These sanctions open a legal ‘can of worms’ that most companies are unwilling to become involved in. Despite Iran having the second largest population in the Middle East, the U.S. marketplace is seen as worth more to companies than the Iranian market. 

• Secondly, the role that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other hardline institutions play in the economy crates additional obstacles to doing business with Iranian banks.

Although several candidates have promised, if elected, to create millions of jobs, economists claim these promises are unrealistic. Much of the Iranian population is experiencing increasing illiteracy. According to former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mostafa Mirsalim, more than 10 million Iranians are considered illiterate.

President Rouhani was billed as a moderate, but executions remained steady during his presidency and human rights violations continued. Yet, Iranians fear a hardline president will usher in even more repression and isolation in the international community.

 The need to use social justice to reduce the gap between the social classes and the corruption, was discussed by Raisi. “16 million people are living on the outskirts of the cities, and many people are living on a base of only 45,000 Tomans (about $15),” he said. Remember, this is the same man who agreed to the execution of thousands of political opposition members, which leaves his talk of social justice falling a bit flat.

The presidential candidates offer little significant change for the Iranian people. Instead.  Infighting and power grabs for the election drive the factions within this group. 

Repression of human rights activists and those who protest the conditions of the economy and environment continue, despite the Iranian government’s claims that they care for their people. 

While each of the candidates talk about reform, social justice, and job creation, the the supreme leader’s approval would be a necessary component for change, and history shows that he prefers things remain as they are.