Iran’s Guardian Council, which oversees elections and legislation, has approved six candidates to run for president in snap elections to be held later this month after the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.  Iran's Election Headquarters announced the final list of the qualified candidates for the 14th presidential election on June 9.

The Guardian Council, a 12-member election supervisory body, finalized the list of the approved candidates earlier in the day and submitted it to the Interior Ministry.

Former justice minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, former health minister Masoud Pezeshkian, head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf have reportedly been cleared to run for the June 28 elections.

Media reports say that among those approved just only one reformist candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, while the remaining five candidates are principlists (the principlists constitute the main right-wing/conservative political movement in Iran).

Pezeshkian, 69, has reportedly been outspoken against the government’s lack of transparency during nationwide protests which were triggered by the September 2022  death in police custody of Mahsa Amini.

Asia-Plus sought the opinion of Qosim Bekmuhammad, a Tajik expert on regional issues, to discuss the implications of the Iranian presidential elections on Tajik-Iranian relations.


Election dynamics

At first glance, representatives of the conservative majority have an advantage.  However, if votes among this faction are divided among five candidates, Masoud Pezeshkian could find himself in a favorable position, Bekmuhammad said, noting that the only way for conservative candidates to secure the presidency is to form a coalition.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf

Historically, conservative candidates are reportedly reluctant to form coalitions, with each preferring to participate individually.  In contrast, reformist candidates, who are typically in opposition, often form coalitions to ensure their representative's success.

The expert notes that currently, according to polls and expert analysis, three candidates have a substantial chance of securing a significant number of votes: Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Saeed Jalili, and Masoud Pezeshkian. Ghalibaf and Jalili are each expected to garner 20-25% of the votes, while Pezeshkian may receive 15-20%. However, as the election date approaches, these dynamics may change.

If the vote distribution remains as such, a second round will be inevitable, giving two candidates a chance to continue the race.  Therefore, for conservative candidates like Ghalibaf and Jalili, forming a coalition and having one withdraw in favor of the other is the only way to secure a hope of victory, according to Bekmuhammad.  Without this, they risk increasing Pezeshkian’s chances.

Face-to-face debates will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, helping voters decide whom to support.  Therefore, predicting the election outcome is practically impossible.  

Saeed Jalili

Nevertheless, a coalition between the two main conservative candidates could result in the election of Iran’s new president in one round, on June 28.


Tajikistan as a priority

A major question that interests many observers is whether Iran’s foreign policy will change with a new president. Tajik journalists and experts are also keenly interested in this issue. Over the past four decades, there have been noticeable differences in the foreign policy approaches of Iran’s presidents.

Masoud Pezeshkian

For example, the late President Ebrahim Raisi’s "Look East" strategy significantly differed from President Hassan Rouhani's "Face to the West" policy, which did not yield much benefit for Iran.  However, the president of Iran is not the primary decision-maker in foreign policy.

Iran's foreign policy is mainly developed by the Supreme National Security Council, which includes the highest-ranking political, military, security, and judicial officials, and is then approved by the Supreme Leader. The president and his team are responsible for implementing it.  Thus, fundamental changes in Iran's foreign policy do not occur with the election of new presidents.

Bekmuhammad believes that regardless of who wins, Tajikistan will remain a key priority in Iran’s Central Asian policy. If Saeed Jalili wins, there is likely to be an emphasis on regionalism in Iran's foreign policy, which could positively impact relations with Tajikistan and Central Asia.

Should Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf be victorious, it is possible that trade and economic ties between Iran and Tajikistan will gain new momentum, given his practical experience in these areas during his tenure as mayor of Tehran.


Enhancing economic relations

It is important to note the significant visit of President Ebrahim Raisi to Tajikistan last year, where he emphasized the importance of expanding friendly relations with brotherly Tajikistan. This visit was warmly received by the Tajik population, as evidenced by the positive reactions on social media during his visit, raising expectations for increased Iranian presence in Tajikistan's economy through goods, capital, equipment, and new technologies.

Less than two decades ago, Iran was one of Tajikistan's key trade and economic partners. However, during a period of relatively cool bilateral relations, Iran lost its position in many areas, including trade and economic relations.

As the saying goes, “a holy place is never empty.”  Today, a significant part of Iran’s previous economic niche in Tajikistan has been filled by other countries.  To reclaim its position, Tehran reportedly must take well-thought-out and effective measures.

Overall, the future of Tajik-Iranian relations looks promising, but it will require strategic efforts and cooperation to ensure mutual benefits and strengthened ties, the Tajik expert concludes.