Iran opens registration for presidential elections following Raisi’s death

Possible frontrunners include acting incumbent Mohammad Mokhber and former presidents Ahmadinejad and Khatami, though unclear if latter are eligible to run

Iranian elections headquarters staff work to register candidates for the June 28 presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian elections headquarters staff work to register candidates for the June 28 presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran opened a five-day registration period Thursday for hopefuls wanting to run in the June 28 presidential election to replace the late Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this month with seven others.

The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash, as well as heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States, and protests including those over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that have swept the country.

While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, maintains final say over all matters of state, presidents in the past have bent the Islamic Republic of Iran toward greater interaction or increased hostility with the West.

The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates. All candidates ultimately must be approved by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Khamenei. That panel has never accepted a woman, for instance, nor anyone calling for radical change within the country’s governance.

Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s interior minister, opened the registration period. The interior ministry, in charge of the country’s police, run Iranian elections with no substantial international observation.

“These elections, like the parliamentary elections, will be held in complete safety and health, with good competition and wide participation of all dear people,” Vahidi said.

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) flashes the sign for victory at the interior ministry’s election headquarters in Tehran on April 12, 2017. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, won Iran’s 2021 presidential election after the Guardian Council disqualified all of the candidates with the best chance to potentially challenge him. That vote saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history for a presidential election. This year’s parliamentary vote saw an even-lower turnout amid widespread boycott calls.

That likely was a sign of voters’ discontent with both a hardline cleric sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in mass executions in 1988, and Iran’s Shiite theocracy over four decades after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Who will run — and potentially be accepted — remains in question. The country’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, a previously behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, could be a front-runner, because he’s already been seen meeting with Khamenei. Also discussed as possible aspirants are former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former reformist president Mohammad Khatami — but whether they’d be allowed to run is another question.

Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami speaks during a gathering in Tehran to support a leading reformist candidate in presidential elections on May 23, 2009. (AP photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

The five-day registration period will close on Tuesday. The Guardian Council is expected to issue its final list of candidates within 10 days afterwards. That will allow for a shortened two-week campaign before the vote in late June.

The new president will take office as the country is now enriching uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a drone and missile attack on Israel amid the war in Gaza. Tehran also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Iran’s economy has faced years of hardship over its collapsing rial currency. Widespread protests have swept the country, most recently over Amini’s death following her arrest over allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to the liking of authorities. A UN panel says the Iranian government is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

Raisi is just the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.

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