Iran File

The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iranian Presidential Election Tracker: Ghalibaf and allies move to take presidency and parliament

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Key Takeaway: Hardliner Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and his allies in the IRGC are preparing to take the presidency and parliament speaker position to consolidate their network’s political influence in Iran. Ghalibaf has increased his campaign activities and attacks on political opponents in a bid to win Iran’s upcoming presidential election. Influential IRGC officers close to Ghalibaf are setting conditions to succeed him as parliament speaker if he becomes president. Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader’s son, may be supporting this network’s efforts to cement his political influence before his father’s death. The greatest obstacle to Ghalibaf’s and Mojtaba’s political ambitions is Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered a potential future president and supreme leader and maintains widespread support.

Ghalibaf has increased his campaign activities and is attacking other potential candidates to boost his own election prospects. He has not yet announced his candidacy but has *conducted outreach to various political factions, *promoted himself as tough against the US, and *toured the country to *review local issues in recent months.

Ghalibaf is likely trying to prevent other formidable hardliners from competing against him. Senior IRGC officials *have accused presidential hopeful Saeed Mohammad of violating election laws or IRGC regulations in recent weeks, culminating in IRGC Commander Hossein Salami firing Mohammad from his position as head of the IRGC construction wing in March 2021. Ghalibaf’s campaign has allegedly *cultivated close ties with the IRGC-affiliated media outlet, Fars News Agency, that circulated the allegations against Mohammad. Ghalibaf is likely cooperating with his supporters in the IRGC to discredit Mohammad and possibly encourage the Guardian Council—the state body constitutionally responsible for vetting and approving electoral candidates—to disqualify him. These allegations began after rumors circulated that Mohammad submitted a report to the Guardian Council detailing corruption cases linked to Ghalibaf in a bid to discredit his rival.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle may prefer Ghalibaf over Mohammad. Many of the officials signaling support for Ghalibaf and opposition to Mohammad are close to the supreme leader and his son, Mojtaba. These individuals include Khamenei’s *representative to the IRGC, the representative’s *political deputy, and *various officials who served with Mojtaba during the Iran-Iraq War.[1] The supreme leader and his son have interfered in previous elections to advantage their desired candidates. It is unclear, however, whether the supreme leader and Mojtaba will prefer Raisi if he runs.

Ghalibaf may also be targeting Raisi. Individuals close to Ghalibaf *spread rumors online about Raisi resigning as judiciary chief to run for president. Iranian media interpreted the rumors as part of an effort to discourage him from running. The judiciary’s public relations managing director *denied that Raisi resigned but did not specify whether he will run for president. Raisi is the most popular candidate, according to some Iranian polls, and is thus Ghalibaf’s greatest obstacle in the election should he run.

Senior IRGC officers may be preparing to succeed Ghalibaf as parliament speaker if he becomes president. Two potential successors are Alireza Zakani and Esmail Kowsari, both former hardline commanders who are close to Ghalibaf and each other. Zakani is the Parliamentary Research Center director and *been increasingly vocal on controversial topics in recent weeks, likely *seeking to boost his public image. Zakani was one of the main contenders to become parliament speaker last year before the legislature selected Ghalibaf and likely wants the position now. Kowsari *announced his hope to return to parliament on April 8 after previously retiring from politics in 2017. He may believe his chances to secure a parliamentary leadership position are better now than in 2017. A hardline majority took office in 2020, making the current parliament likely to select a hardline speaker over a moderate or reformist.


[1] For more information on Mojtaba’s network, see Morad Vaisi, “Halgheh Gordan Habib; Teem-e Mojtaba Khamenei” [Circle of the Habib Battalion; Mojtaba Khamenei’s Team], Radio Farda, https://www.radiofarda.com/a/30119166.html#main.

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