The Race: Khamenei Wades into Election

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The May 19 election is widely seen not just as a contest for the presidency, but also for the political trend in the post-Khamenei period. In July, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will turn 78. He is likely to retain the top position in the Islamic Republic until his death. Succession is a taboo topic in Iran, and Khamenei does not have a clear protégé. But one cleric thought to be a potential successor, Ebrahim Raisi, is running for the presidency, which could be a stepping stone to becoming supreme leader. The hardliner poses a challenge to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who is backed by reformists and centrists.

The supreme leader’s comments on the election have highlighted differences with Rouhani, especially on the economy. Khamenei has stressed the importance of self-reliance and boosting domestic production while Rouhani has promoted international trade. "The candidates should promise to focus on national capabilities and domestic capacities to resolve the economic issues ... rather than looking abroad," Khamenei said on April 25.

Ebrahim Raisi

On April 30, Khamenei said that Rouhani’s administration was not responsible for decreasing the likelihood of Iran being attacked or going to war. He said that widespread citizen participation politics “has removed the shadow of war from the country.”

Although Khamenei has said that he will not endorse a candidate, Raisi is widely seen as his pick. He serves as Custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, an influential position responsible for overseeing and maintaining the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, the most holy site in Iran for Shiite Muslims. Raisi’s appointment to the position indicated the support of the supreme leader.

In the run-up to the vote, Khamenei has encouraged widespread participation. He highlighted elections as one of two pillars of Iran’s “religious democracy.” Khamenei also advised Iranians to be vigilant against attempts by the West, especially the United States, to undermine the election. But he warned citizens against questioning the results of the election. “Whatever the result of national elections is, it will be valid and legal,” he said in a speech. On May 10, Khamenei warned candidates about becoming too confrontational. If they “turn immoral and with their spoken words give hope to the enemy, then the elections will turn to our disadvantage,” he said. The following are excerpted remarks by Khamenei on the poll.

“Elections can bring us pride or weaken us. If people participate with order and proceed with ethics and respect the limits of Islam and laws, it will lead to dignity for the Islamic Republic.”

If candidates “turn immoral and with their spoken words give hope to the enemy, then the elections will turn to our disadvantage.”

“I advise the candidates to make sure they observe these points in their campaign promises. One is economy; they should certainly pay attention and firmly declare that they desire to make efforts to improve the economy of the country; and that the livelihood of the people is a number one priority. The second point is that they should demonstrate in their campaign promises and remarks that the concern is ‘national glory and independence of the Iranian nation.’ The Iranian nation is a revolutionary nation. The glory of the nation must be protected. The third point is ‘national security and national peace’; they should avoid triggering belief, geographical, lingual or ethnic differences; they should be careful. The candidates should be careful that by a detection error, they won’t trigger these difference to the benefit of the enemy.”

—May 10, 2017, in a speech via Khamenei’s website and Bloomberg


“Some say since they took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct.”

“It’s been people’s presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country.”

—April 30, 2017, in a speech


"The candidates should promise to focus on national capabilities and domestic capacities to resolve the economic issues ... rather than looking abroad,"

—April 25, 2017, according to state media via Reuters


“The people, officials and candidates must appreciate the value of the elections and bring about the grounds for elections that are clean and held with passion, vigor and widespread participation.”     

“Ill-wishers sought to present Islam and spirituality as being opposite to democracy, but the Islamic Republic proved these statements wrong with religious democracy and elections.”

“The elections should be clean and full of security and held with widespread participation, passion, vigor and vitality and such elections and asset will bestow vast immunity upon the country.”

“If this is achieved—which God willing it will happen by His grace, despite how the enemies and the mainstream media tries to spoil the results of the elections, in some way or another— if the Iranian nation continues to take part in the elections with vigilance and awareness, as they always have, then a massive, lucid election, coupled with enthusiasm and eagerness, as well as health and safety will be held, and this will be a significant resource for the country, which will safeguard it."

—April 19, 2017, in a meeting with military commanders and officers


“As for the issue of elections, dear brothers and sister, elections are very important in our country. Not only presidential elections but also parliamentary and city and village councils elections are the same. Elections are one of the two pillars of religious democracy. Religious democracy stands on two pillars. One of these two pillars is the people’s votes and elections. We boast to the whole world thanks to elections. In order to strike the people of Iran and the Islamic Republic, the enemies ignore and accuse our elections. This shows that elections are every important. Pay attention! If it is necessary to chant this slogan, you should rather say, “I will never surrender to not having elections!

“Elections are very important because they are a source of national dignity, of strengthening the people of Iran and of their reputation. Of course, by Allah’s favor, I will speak more about elections in the future. What I want to say on the issue of elections today is that elections are a power-generating phenomenon. People and outstanding personalities in the world were attracted to the philosophy of religious democracy which was introduced by us. In the face of various schools of thought such as liberalism, communism, fascism and the like, our magnanimous Imam [Ruhollah Khomeini] brought religious democracy – which is the same as the Islamic Republic – to the arena, thus attracting nations and outstanding personalities in all corners and countries in the world.”

“This religious democracy is reliant on elections. Therefore, the people of Iran should really shine brightly in elections. What I am saying and what is of primary importance to this humble person is the participation of the people in elections. All those people who can vote and who are legally eligible should enter the elections and create an enthusiastic environment. This is our first and foremost request.”

“What I want to say about elections is that the letter of the law should be observed in elections. The letter of the law should be observed! Whatever the result of national elections is, it will be valid and legal. I will not interfere in elections. I have never said and will never say to the people that they should vote for and not vote for such and such a person. I only interfere in one condition and that is when some people want to stand against the people’s votes and choice and to cancel their votes by causing interference. Anyone who decides to attack the result of the people’s votes will be confronted by me!”

“This has been the case in previous years and in previous elections. I acted in the same way in the years 1376, 1380, 1384, 1388 and 1392. Some of those interfering actions were in front of the eyes of the people and they became aware of them. However, they did not become aware of some other actions, but I was informed. In all those years which I mentioned, there were some individuals who wanted to stand up against the elections.”

“In the year 1388, this became evident. They brought their forces to the arena in that year, but in other years, they acted differently. In all those years, I stood firm and said that whatever the result of the people’s elections, it should be held valid. This is where I interfere in elections and stand up against the opponents and protesters of elections! However, I have not interfered in other affairs. The letter of the law should be observed. The people should choose and move forward.” 

“My prediction is that by Allah’s favor, our election will be an enthusiastic election, one which will be attended by all the people. I hope that by Allah’s favor, the result of the elections – whether city and village councils elections or presidential elections – will be to the satisfaction of God and lead to the happiness and bliss of the people of Iran. I will tell you that you should hold the elections in a good way. If this happens, the people will become victorious. With good elections, the people will move forward and God willing, the enemy will not be able to do a damn thing!”

—March 21, 2017, in a speech


Photo credits: Khamenei via, Raisi via Raisi_org (Instagram)