By Behrouz Turani

Iran International

Political groups in Iran have been proposing candidates for the June 28 presidential election in a bid to encourage relatively moderate politicians to come forward and change the monolithic political landscape.

As candidate registration began on Thursday, the main question remained whether Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other hardliners will signal to reformists and other factions to come forward as candidates in the snap elections following President Ebrahim Raisi's death on May 19.

While moderates and reformists hope that Raisi's death will facilitate their political comeback, they seem to overlook that their isolation and exclusion from political activity are not the results of a democratic competition with Raisi and other hardliners. Rather, it was Khamenei’s loyalists who systematically barred other insiders from three elections since February 2020, pushing them out of the government.

While centrist and reformist newspapers put forward the names of more than 30 reform-minded political figures this week, Khamenei and hardliners in the government have not changed their mind and keep repeating what they said even before Raisi was officially pronounced dead. They are adamant that nothing is going to change. They want someone exactly like Raisi, meaning a hardliner loyal to the Supreme Leader.

During the week after Raisi's death officials and clerics have been glorifying him and fabricating "achievements" for him. And as they know it is difficult to convince the public about those achievements, they have been telling stories about links between Raisi and Muslim saints who died centuries ago.

Posters shout in large fonts: "You were not illiterate," referring to the public view that the late president had only a sixth-grade standard education and he spent the rest of his teenage years in Shiite seminaries. They also claim that under Raisi Iran had the second biggest economic growth rate in the world, while more than 10 million were added to the ranks of the poor under the heavy burden of a persistent 50% annual inflation rate.

Others highlight Raisi's broken promises: building four million homes, providing free Internet for low-income Iranians, supporting online businesses, reforming the banking system, facilitating the return of expats, cracking down on government corruption, halving medical costs, controlling inflation and exchange rates, and reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

None of these promises have been even partially fulfilled, and the situation has worsened in the three years since Raisi took office. Nevertheless, hardliners still want someone similar to him as the new President. Mohammad Mokhber, the vice president and now acting president, has stated that the plan to build four million houses was intended to begin in Raisi's fourth year in office, had he survived.

Dozens of names put forward by political groups include vice presidents, cabinet ministers and other state officials from the past, individuals such as former vice president Es'haq Jahangiri; the former chief of staff of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Hossein Marashi; former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref; Former Majles Speaker Ali Larijani; former Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, and Expediency Council member Mohammad Sadr who has even prepared an election campaign video days before registration of candidates start.

But politicians proposing these names cannot explain what those individuals and others on their long lists have achieved during their long careers in the past 45 years.

On the conservative side, individuals close to the Supreme Leader's office, such as Parviz Fattah—a key figure in Khamenei’s “charity-business” conglomerate—have been named as potential candidates. Their careers have primarily involved protecting Khamenei's assets and channeling funds into ineffective projects and Iran’s regional ambitions.

During the past week, Vice President Mokhber has been mentioned at least five times as the best candidate to replace Raisi. However, he has repeatedly demurred, stating that he is currently too busy to run for the presidency. Other hardliners, like former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, have also declined, saying they have their current jobs and do not need to run for President. It is not clear if they know something others don’t.

With over 30 years of experience in dealing with every one of these possible candidates Khamenei knows them better than anyone else, and when he says there will not be any major change, he means it.