When Iran announced the candidates approved this week to run in the next presidential elections, Iranians online responded with a flurry of jokes all sharing the same line of force: the vote is foregone.
In a widely shared meme, Ebrahim Raisi – the Tory insider tipped to win the June 18 vote – sits on a panel, alongside three other versions of himself.
As moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani prepares to step down after serving two concurrent terms, the head of the judiciary, Mr Raisi, is the only serious candidate among seven approved mostly extremist candidates, according to many Iranians.
That Iran’s Guardian Council has approved so few 590 candidatures for the election suggests he has a particular interest in handling the outcome of the vote, experts say, as the question of choosing the successor to Iran’s 82-year-old supreme leader is likely to arise in the next presidency.
“The race is over for everything but the name,” said a reporter in Tehran. “Raisi is definitely going to win and that would position him to become the next Supreme Leader.”
This would follow the model established by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who served as president in the 1980s before replacing the first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
If extremists can consolidate power by taking the presidency – one of the few important roles still occupied by a moderate – “it will allow the system to deal with the issue of political succession at the top,” said Sanam Vakil, an Iranian expert. at Chatham House.
And Mr Raisi, 60, appears to be their favorite candidate, Ms Vakil said.
“He’s a real insider who has held various positions,” she said. “He is ideologically very close to the network of individuals and the deep state around the Supreme Leader. This makes it a very safe and secure choice.
Austere gray beard in a black turban – a sign of the Prophet’s descent – Mr. Raisi is a shadow apparatchik who quickly rose through the ranks of the judiciary after the Islamic Revolution, while developing close ties with the Supreme Leader and the Corps guardians of the Islamic revolution.
According to his website, after the revolution, the young seminarian from Qom was selected for a special training course aimed at resupplying the Iranian civil service as the revolutionaries turned to power. During this time, he met the future Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in whose footsteps he would eventually be prepared to walk.
Mr. Raisi also married well to the daughter of Mashhad’s Friday prayer leader Ahmad Alamolhoda. His stepfather is “probably a force driving this guy forward,” said Alex Vatanka, Iran program director at the Middle East Institute.
While still a young prosecutor, Mr. Raisi proved in 1988 his commitment to the revolution as a member of a four-man “death commission” in Tehran which ordered the extrajudicial execution of thousands of leftists. and dissidents.
His main demonstrable talent over the decades has been his willingness to follow orders, according to Vatanka. “He has always been a loyal soldier.
This facilitated his ascent, allowing him to join the Iranian Assembly of Experts in 2006 – a prerequisite for any supreme leader – despite poor theological credentials, Vatanka said.
His rise behind the scenes took a public turn in 2017 when he ran for office against President Rouhani, even though every incumbent since 1981 has been re-elected.
Since that loss, Mr. Raisi has increased his public profile, serving as the guardian of a rich religious endowment and Imam Razi’s shrine, where senior IRGC officials traveled to Mashad to be photographed alongside him.
In 2019, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Mr. Raisi chief justice, where he polished his populist credentials with an anti-corruption campaign.
During the election campaign, he traveled to neglected provinces to hear the grievances of the poor, accusing moderates like President Rouhani of being weak in the face of Western sanctions.
With Ayatollah Khamenei directing major decisions, Iran’s foreign policy is unlikely to change drastically under a Raisi presidency, experts say, although his suspicion of the West is clear.
But sanctions against him could be a sticking point amid ongoing negotiations on the return of Iran and the United States to the nuclear deal.
In 2019, as part of former President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran, the United States sanctioned Raisi, accusing him of administrative oversight of the executions of minors, torture and punishment. inhuman. They also cited his involvement in the regime’s brutal crackdown on Green Movement protests after the 2009 elections.
If he wins the election, President Joe Biden could lift sanctions against Mr Raisi for pragmatic reasons, said Leigh Hansson, sanctions expert and partner at law firm Reed Smith.
“It’s going to be difficult to engage with someone who is currently under US sanctions,” she said. “I think they’re going to have to do something specifically to remove these sanctions against him.”