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Iran election: Conservatives’ new target: government

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Campaign billboards for the upcoming presidential election line the streets of Iran, making grand promises: economic prosperity, eradication of corruption, a free press, reversing the brain drain, and one candidate’s promise to “save the citizens” from all the suffering facing the country.

In order to attract votes, all Six candidates Five conservatives and one reformist, all chosen by a council of clergy, are launching a fierce attack on the status quo. In speeches, televised debates and roundtable discussions, they criticize the government’s economic, domestic and foreign policies, as well as Violence against women and ridiculed Iranian officials’ optimistic assessment of Iran’s economic prospects as harmful delusions.

Iran will hold a special presidential election on June 28 to select the president’s successor Ibrahim LacyLast month in Helicopter crashWhile Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy decisions in Iran, the president sets the domestic agenda and, to a lesser extent, can influence foreign policy.

Iran’s elections are not free and fair by Western standards, with the selection of candidates subject to strict scrutiny by the Guardian Council, a committee of 12 clerics appointed by the Constitution. However, some elections are hotly contested and the results are unpredictable. The Guardian Council approved the current candidates from a list of 80 candidates, seven of whom are women, including a former president and several government ministers and lawmakers who were disqualified from running.

In past political movements, both conservatives and reformists have attacked their opponents, but conservatives have generally adhered to strict ideological boundaries and avoided attacking the existing system.

While harsh criticism of the campaign from reformist candidates was to be expected, the criticism from conservatives came as a shock to some Iranians. And that, analysts say, may be the point.

Voter turnout, an important measure of government support and legitimacy, has been low amid the boycott and voter apathy. To some extent, the debate reflects real divisions within the political class and an overall frustration even among officials about the country’s problems.

The emergence of reformist candidate Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian was a surprise in itself, as parliament has barred most reformists from running in recent parliamentary and presidential elections. However, one Iranian expert said it could also be a government strategy to boost turnout.

Dr. Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon, former health minister and longtime member of Congress, is a “token candidate trying to spark debate and mobilize people to the polls,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. “They may think it’s beneficial to hold an election that looks more dynamic in order to gain internal approval and legitimacy.”

But Ms. Vakil said Iran’s election season had shown a level of rigorous public debate rarely seen in some countries in the region with authoritarian governments.

Despite the government’s efforts, it remains a challenge to generate enough interest to convince voters to turn out in large numbers to the polls. Voters are generally skeptical, with many Iranians saying in interviews, social media posts and public election forums that they have lost faith in achieving significant change at the ballot box and prefer an end to clerical rule.

“We hate your rhetoric and deception every day,” Dr. Pezeshkian told a male university student who asked not to be named during a recent rally at Tehran University. Event video. The auditorium erupted in cheers and applause.

The student then questioned the importance of the presidency, asking, “What is the point of the presidency if it does not have the power to influence superiors and is not subject to interference from intelligence agencies?”

Dr. Pezeshkian, while generally sympathetic to the student, told the student that as president he did not have the power to achieve many of the things he was asking for, such as releasing political prisoners, “even if I wanted to.”

He went on to tell students that he was against the moral police and said he had spoken out against Mahasa Aminithe young Kurdish woman who died in 2022 while in custody of the morality police, sparked a nationwide uprising.

“We do things that make women and girls hate us,” he said. “It’s our actions that make them antagonistic.”

Iran’s elections can be volatile, with candidates likely to drop out to consolidate support for one or two contenders. Currently, the front-runner is conservative Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and Tehran mayor who is now speaker of parliament.

Ghalibaf, a strongman with close ties to Khamenei, has been the target of numerous scandals by whistleblowers and journalists, including financial corruption and ideological heresy, such as advocating austerity while his relatives spent lavishly abroad. He has denied the allegations.

Navid Farrokhi, 45, an entrepreneur and business owner in Tehran who sits on the advisory board of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, said he supported Mr. Ghalibaf because of his decades of administrative experience and his dealings with foreign capital as mayor. He said he did not care about the corruption allegations.

“I live here, I work here, and I face a lot of challenges managing people,” Farooqui said in a telephone interview. “I want to have a say in improving our lives, and I can do that by running in elections.”

Mr. Ali, 42, an engineer from Tehran who asked that his last name not be used for fear of retaliation, said in an interview that his attitude toward Dr. Pezeshkian had gradually warmed up and that he was considering voting for him.

“I thought I wouldn’t vote for anyone this election cycle, but Pezeshkian is an interesting character,” he said. “He’s outspoken, outspoken and has no stains in his political career.”

The other four conservative candidates are: Saeed Jalili, an extreme hardliner who has served in important positions such as chief nuclear negotiator; Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who was vice president in Raisy’s government; Alireza Zakani, the current mayor of Tehran; and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric to have served as head of the intelligence ministry’s counterintelligence department and as justice minister.

Mr. Ghalibaf, who has been trying to prove he can make the government more efficient, complained in a televised roundtable discussion that at least 30 percent of oil revenues were lost to sanctions evasion, an unacceptable figure that he said was “the result of ignorance, incompetence and unwiseness.”

Clerk Pour Mohammadi declared in a televised debate that the Islamic Republic of Iran has almost lost its people and that it would “need a miracle” to successfully govern the country.

“It’s a miracle that people trust. It’s a miracle that people trust the government,” he added.

Pourmohammadi’s point was succinctly expressed by Soheil, a 37-year-old engineer from Isfahan who also asked not to use his last name for fear of retaliation. “I will not vote — the election is not free,” he said in a telephone interview. “My representative is not among the candidates, and I don’t see any difference between them. No one represents my will.”

While candidates are free to criticize the government, the news media is tightly controlled. This month, two prominent journalists, Yashar Soltani and Saba Azarpeik, were arrested for their work. Expose corruption allegations against government officialsmost notably Mr. Ghalibaf.

In June this year, government agencies issued a warning to all news media organizations: any reports that could be interpreted as encouraging people not to vote or reducing voting participation would be considered a crime, punishable by up to 74 lashes and the revocation of their publishing license.

Nobel Prize winner and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi’s sentence, which he is serving for 10 years, was extended by one year on Tuesday, his lawyer Mustafa Nili said.

The additional sentence is punishment for her calls on Iranians to boycott March parliamentary elections and for criticizing Ghalibaf’s daughter, Dina, for throwing a lavish baby shower in Turkey and then importing nearly 500 pounds of baby clothes and related goods — even though her father had preached that Iranians must buy domestic products.

The scandal is well known in Iran For example, #babyshowergate.

Late Thursday, Iran’s judiciary announced the arrest of Vahid Ashtari, a prominent conservative whistleblower who uncovered the infant baptism scandal.

Riley Nikunazar Contributed reporting.

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