“This can be the result of a conclusion reached by the hardliner camp from the 2013 presidential election where their chances were hurt with none of their candidates willing to step aside in favor of their all-out interests.” Heshmat Alavi writes in an article for Al Arabiya.

Last Tuesday, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf made an early, and unexpected exit from Iran’s presidential election.

Conservative former minister of culture and Islamic guidance Mostafa Mir-Salim will likely follow. Most think that he had little chance in the polls. He was one of the three “hardliners” set to run against three so-called “moderates/reformists”.

The Vice President, Eshagh Jahangiri, after challenging the “hardline” rivals head on in the debates and taking the hits for Rouhani, did what was expected, by stepping aside on Monday.

Rallying behind Ebrahim Raisi will now be those loyal to Khamenei, as he is an insider figure with the Supreme Leader’s support, according to Alavi. Known as the “massacre ayatollah” inside Iran, Raisi has served the judiciary for three decades, has sent thousands to be executed, and was a participant in the summer 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the Iranian opposition group, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Rouhani, the “moderate”,  has nothing to present to the Iranian voter, according to Alavi. “He has failed to inject any new life into the economy and provide for the average Iranian after the nuclear deal, and yet tens of billions of dollars are spent on:

a) The regime’s meddling across the region, mainly in Syria

b) The ballistic missile drive

c) The domestic crackdown machine

d) The nuclear program that was supposed to be curbed” 

During the past four years Rouhani has also presided over 3,000 executions. 

Raisi will probably be selected by the regime. Alavi asks,  “Would Khamenei have even entered Raisi into the race if he had any hesitations about the outcome?” He interprets The Supreme Leader’s recent remarks as warnings to Rouhani, especially when he warned that any “disruptor of the process will receive a slap in the face.”

However, a complete “engineering” of the election will not be an easy task for Khamenei, as there are divides in the regime’s senior ranks. “Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, a former principalist, and Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a close confidant of Khamenei, have placed their weight behind Rouhani,” Alavi writes.

In a surprising twist to the 2017 election, Khamenei’s camp is using social media. Although Twitter is officially banned in Iran, the candidates are using it, and also the messaging app, Telegram, which has over 20 million users in Iran. The younger generation who make up a very large percentage of Iran’s population, and this is an attempt to garner their support. 

Activists inside the country, have braved many risks to spread the message of Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, especially those connected with the PMOI/MEK. If arrested, they will likely be tortured and probably executed, as any support for the PMOI/MEK inside Iran is considered the crossing of a major red line.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who wins the vote, according to The New York Post.

“Fact is, in Iran the question isn’t who gets the most votes, but who’s counting them. And those counting them this year clearly favor Raisi, a hardliner judge. All this seems to guarantee the next few years will be filled with hostility and provocations directed toward America from Tehran. Indeed, even if Rouhani gets another presidential term, it’s already clear: The age of phony smiles between America and Iran is now over,” they write.