On May 25, Iran approved seven candidates to run for president in the June 18 election. A total of 592 candidates, 552 men and 40 women, had registered to run. The Guardian Council – an unelected panel of 12 Islamic jurists and scholars who vet candidates – said that only 40 men met the basic qualifications. The council whittled the list down to seven candidates – less than two percent of those who registered. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed the heavily conservative slate on May 27 and urged people to vote. "Dear nation of Iran, do not pay attention to those who promote that voting is useless ... the outcome of the election lasts for years. ... Participate in the elections," he said. The candidate list included five conservatives, one centrist and one reformist:
- Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi: Four-term member of Parliament (2008 to present) representing Mashhad and Kalat district. A hardliner.
- Abdolnaser Hemmati: Former governor of the Central Bank of Iran (2018 to 2021) and a former vice president of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. A political centrist.
- Saeed Jalili: Member of the Supreme National Security Council (secretary from 2007 to 2013; supreme leader’s representative from 2014 to present), a former nuclear negotiator during the Ahmadinejad presidency (2007 to 2013), and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. A hardliner.
- Mohsen Mehralizadeh: Former governor of Isfahan province, former vice president under President Mohammad Khatami (2001 to 2005), and a former Revolutionary Guards commander. A reformist.
- Ebrahim Raisi: Judiciary chief (2019 to present), presidential candidate in 2017, deputy chief of the Assembly of Experts (2019 to present), and former prosecutor general. A hardliner.
- Mohsen Rezaei: Secretary of the Expediency Council, presidential candidate in 2005, 2009, and 2013 and a former Revolutionary Guards commander-in-chief. A hardliner.
- Alireza Zakani: Member of parliament (from 2004 to 2016 and from 2020 to the present), medical doctor and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. He was twice disqualified from running in 2013 and 2017. A hardliner.
On June 16, two hardliners – Jalili and Zakani – dropped out and endorsed Raisi, the frontrunner. Mehralizadeh, the loan reformist, withdrew as well but did not explicitly endorse Hemmati, the only remaining candidate who was not a hardliner.
The Guardian Council, which includes six members appointed by the supreme leader and six by the judiciary, barred at least four experienced politicians; three had been cleared to run in previous elections. They included:
- Ali Larijani: a conservative who was speaker of parliament from 2008 to 2020. He was cleared to run in 2005.
- Eshaq Jahangiri: Vice President under President Hassan Rouhani since 2013. He was cleared to run in 2017.
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Former President from 2005 to 2013. He was also barred in 2017.
- Mohsen Hashemi: Chairman of the City Council of Tehran since 2017 and son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The following are profiles of the approved candidates, in alphabetical order, and their statements on key issues:
Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, born in 1971, is a hardline politician and four-term member of parliament. He is a doctor with a specialty in head and neck surgery. He was formerly chancellor of Semnan University of Medical Sciences and Health Services. In 2008, he was elected to Parliament for Mashhad and Kalat in Razavi Khorasan province. He was reelected in in 2012, 2016 and 2020. In 2016, Hashemi was chosen as first deputy speaker in Parliament under Speaker Ali Larijiani. As deputy speaker, Hashemi expressed staunch support for Palestinian militants, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In September 2020, he denounced the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel as “apostasy.”
Hashemi demanded that the Rouhani government take a harder line with the West after the Trump administration withdrew from 2015 nuclear deal in 2018. He called INSTEX – the European financial mechanism meant to bypass U.S. sanctions – a “disgrace” and said that there was “no hope” that Europeans would be able to save the nuclear deal. Hashemi also pushed for Iran to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and expel nuclear inspectors if U.N. sanctions were reimposed on Iran. In December 2020, he backed legislation that required the government to enrich uranium to 20 percent – above the 3.67 percent limit allowed in the nuclear deal. Hashemi was pessimistic about the prospects of negotiations with the Biden administration. “How the agreement will be implemented in the text must be clear, otherwise the agreement is useless,” he said in May 2021.
- On the nuclear deal: "If the outcome of the Vienna talks only leads to the signing of two texts, this agreement is worthless…The way the agreement will be implemented in the text must be clear, otherwise the agreement is useless and just good news that does not lead to practical measures, he said in an interview with IranPress on May 19, 2021. “Iran fulfilled its obligations under the agreement; however, it was the European parties who failed to fulfill their commitments. Therefore, staying in such a situation is, strategically, to the detriment of national interests and authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he told Mehr News Agency on Dec. 6, 2020.
- On U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf: “Iranian forces are able to catch the US’ atomic submarines and Tehran is not worried about U.S. military activities in the Persian Gulf waters… U.S. and U.K. have created bases in Persian Gulf littoral states and everywhere that these two countries are present means Israel has infiltrated there,” he said in an interview with Arabic RT on Dec. 22, 2020.
- On Israel-UAE normalization: “One of Islam’s obligations is to defend the oppressed and counter oppression. When the Emirates officially establishes and declares relations with Israel, this, in fact, amounts to the issuance of a statement declaring the apostasy of this country,” he said interview with Fars News Agency on Sept. 5, 2020.
Abdolnaser Hemmati, born in 1957, is a centrist politician and banker. He holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Tehran. During the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Hemmati was the director general of the news department at Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a state media outlet. Hemmati was placed in charge of war messaging. After the war, he served as vice president of IRIB from 1989 to 1994. In 2001, Hemmati was appointed to the economic committee of the Supreme National Security Council, a position he held until 2006. Hemmati left for the private sector, but he retained ties with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was CEO of Bank Sina from 2006 to 2013 and CEO of Bank Melli from 2013 to 2016. Both banks were sanctioned by the Obama administration for servicing entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs; both banks were removed from the sanctions list as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.
In June 2018, Hemmati was named ambassador to China. But he was quickly recalled and appointed to head the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) after the prior governor, Valiollah Seif, resigned over allegations of fraud and mismanagement. Hemmati took over the Central Bank during the height of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which included U.S. sanctions on the Central Bank for supporting the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Lebanon. As CBI governor, Hemmati revamped Iran’s currency to simplify financial transactions. He also negotiated the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines from Japan and South Korea using Iranian assets frozen in both countries. In April 2021, Hemmati sent CBI officials to the Vienna talks between Iran and the six major world powers to ensure U.S. sanctions on the CBI were lifted. In May 2021, Hemmati told Iranian lawmakers that he was “hopeful” about negotiations. On May 30, Rouhani's cabinet dismissed Hemmati from his position at the Central Bank because he would not be able to fulfil is duties while campaigning. During the campaign, Hemmati has identified as a reformist while also downplaying the importance of labels. “Reformist and principlist (hardliner) no longer makes sense; I am your humble voice,” he said during an event on June 4 on Clubhouse, an audio-based platform. Hemmati has also said that he wants to be the voice of the “silent majority.”
- On U.S. sanctions: “Over the past two years, the Central Bank has been under increasing pressure, mainly due to the sanctions and the negative supply shocks, especially at a time when the accumulated liquidity force is being drained on prices, since other problems, including the coronavirus outbreak and the budget deficit, have led to the inevitable escalation of liquidity growth,” he said in 2020. In 2019, he wrote on Instagram, “The U.S. administration’s recent measure against the IRGC is the last sign of failure of its policy to pressure the Iranian nation and the financial and monetary sanctions in the past year… The CBI along with the government will powerfully implement its plans, including access to sustainable, safe and sanction-proof foreign currency, and such measures will not leave any durable impacts on the markets.”
- On nuclear talks: “I think we haven't seen anything serious from Mr. Biden's side yet… They first need to go back to the (nuclear deal) that they withdrew from. If we see the process and more confidence is built, then we can talk about that,” he told the Associated Press in June 2021.
- On the U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani: “His efforts were mostly focused on standing up against the United States' pressures on the country, and we, as the economic sector of the nation, are obliged to follow his efforts in order to counteract the enemy's economic pressures,” he said at a memorial service for Soleimani in January 2020.
- On the economy: The "coronavirus pandemic caused the country's economic growth, which was on the verge of becoming positive, to become negative again, but the resilience of the Iranian economy helped it to overcome the recession after a while and the country's economic growth became positive again," he said on state television on March 27, 2021.
- On commerce: “Iran must engage in trade with rest of the world; it cannot survive individually,” he said during the third presidential debate on June 12, 2021.
- On social restrictions: “Control over people’s lives should be lifted,” he said during the second debate on June 8, 2021.
Saeed Jalili, born in 1965, is a hardline diplomat and politician. He holds a doctorate in political science. During the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Jalili volunteered for the Basij paramilitary. He earned the title of “living martyr” after he lost part of his right leg fighting on the front. In 1989, he began working in the foreign ministry and remained there for a decade. From 2001 to 2005, he was the director general of the supreme leader’s office. In 2004, he ran for a seat in parliament from his hometown of Mashhad but lost. In 2005, Jalili became an advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From 2005 to 2007, he was also the deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. In 2008, he made another failed bid for a seat in parliament. From 2007 to 2013, he was both the chief nuclear negotiator in talks with major world powers as well as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure, talks failed to make progress. He had a reputation among diplomats for being dogmatic and unwilling to seriously engage.
In 2013, Jalili ran unsuccessfully for president. He came in third place in a field of six candidates, with only 11 percent of the vote. Later that year, Khamenei appointed Jalili to serve on the Expediency Council, a 13-member body that resolves disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. He served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 2007 to 2013. He has served as the Supreme Leader’s representative to the SNSC since 2014.
- On the nuclear deal: "You can't put the country in limbo to negotiate with a few world powers and [surrender to their] will," he said on May 8, 2021. In a speech to Basij students on Dec. 2, 2020, he said that the world powers allow “a few countries to have illegal nuclear weapons and decide which other countries can have them.”
- On government transparency: “We need to devise a mechanism, under which the people oversee the government and trail it like a shadow in order to correct its mistakes and promote its good deeds,” he said in an interview on June 3, 2021.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh, born in 1956, is a reformist politician and a former vice president. He holds a doctorate in financial management. He reportedly helped form a Revolutionary Guards unit in Maragheh, his hometown, and rose to the rank of commander during the Iran-Iraq War. In 1992, he served as Vice President of Nuclear Power Plant Affairs for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). From 1997 to 2001, he was the governor of Khorasan Province. From 2001 to 2005, he joined the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami as vice president for sport. Mehralizadeh ran in the 2005 presidential elections. He was initially disqualified by the Guardian Council, but Khamenei intervened to reverse the ban on Mehralizadeh and another reformist candidate. Mehralizadeh came in last place in a field of seven candidates, with only 1.3 million votes or 4.4 percent of the vote. In 2017, he was elected governor of Isfahan province. As governor, Mehralizadeh signed an agreement to bring electric vehicle manufacturing to the province.
- On Iran’s regional role: “Isfahan’s long-term security is also dependent on security in Iran and the region,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times on May 8, 2018.
Ebrahim Raisi, born in 1960, is a hardline cleric and the chief of the national judiciary. He holds a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence and law. Raisi became a prosecutor in the early 1980s. As deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, he reportedly participated in the so-called “death commission” that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Raisi served as prosecutor general of Tehran between 1989 and 1994 and first deputy head of the judiciary from 2004 to 2014. In 2006, Raisi was elected to the Assembly of Experts, which is charged with appointing and overseeing the supreme leader. After the disputed 2009 presidential election, Raisi supported the brutal crackdowns and showed little tolerance for public dissent. He was Iran’s prosecutor general from 2014 to 2016.
In 2016, Supreme Leader Khamenei appointed Raisi to be custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable foundation with assets reportedly worth billions of dollars; he held the position for three years. In the 2017 presidential election, Raisi came in second, with 38 percent of the vote in a four-way contest, but he lost to incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who got 57 percent of the vote. Raisi is widely considered a potential successor to Khamenei. He has served as judiciary chief and deputy chief of the Assembly of Experts since March 2019. Raisi was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in November 2019 for his role in domestic repression and actions on behalf of Khamenei.
- On the nuclear deal: “Some [politicians] hold sessions to see what they can get from westerners. If they had held sessions [at home] on how to boost production and remove obstacles, many problems would have been resolved by now,” he said in Tehran on April 26, 2021. Yet during a presidential debate on June 12, 2021, he said, “We will abide by the JCPOA, which the supreme leader approved, but you (Hemmati) cannot implement it. Implementing the JCPOA requires a strong government.”
- On U.S. sanctions: “Any elected government should prioritize lifting sanctions. But we shouldn’t allow sanctions to affect our economy,” he said during the second presidential debate on June 8, 2021.
- On the 2021 election: “God, you are witness that I have never been after position or power, and even at this stage I have entered the field despite personal will and interests, and only to serve my duty to answer the people and elites and create hope… I have come as an independent to the stage to make changes in the executive management of the country and to fight poverty, corruption, humiliation and discrimination,” he said in announcing his candidacy on May 15, 2021.
Mohsen Rezaei, born in 1954, is a conservative politician and Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) veteran. He holds a doctorate in economics. He served as IRGC commander-in-chief from 1981 to 1997. Rezaei was a senior commander during the eight-year war with Iraq. Under his command, the IRGC eclipsed Iran’s regular military, the Artesh, and became an important economic player. Rezaei later claimed that he was instrumental in creating the Qods Force, the IRGC’s external operations arm. In 1994, he was allegedly involved in planning a suicide bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina. INTERPOL placed Rezaei and five other Iranians on its most-wanted list in 2007 for connections to the attack.
Rezaei retired from the military in 1997 and was appointed secretary of the Expediency Council by Khamenei that same year. He became head of the council’s Commission for Macroeconomics and Commerce in 1998. In 2000, Rezaei ran unsuccessfully for Parliament to represent Tehran. In 2005, Rezaei ran for the presidency, but his campaign failed to gain momentum. He dropped out two days before the election. Rezaei ran for the presidency again in 2009. He came in third place, in a field of four candidates, with less than two percent of the vote. Rezaei ran again 2013, when he came in fourth among six candidates, with about 11 percent of the vote. In 2020, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Rezaei for his role in advancing Iran’s “destabilizing objectives.”
- On the nuclear deal: “We have to see every month during the talks that some sanctions which are of urgency to us are being lifted…For instance, sanctions on financial transactions and restrictions that European banks have imposed should be lifted in the first month. Oil exports are also among our top priorities,” he said in an interview with Financial Times on March 5, 2021.
- On the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani: “Iran’s revenge against America for the assassination of Soleimani will be severe… Haifa and Israeli military centers will be included in the retaliation,” he told mourners in Tehran on Jan. 5, 2020.
- On Iran’s regional activities: “The fear of the West goes beyond the fear of Iran producing a nuclear bomb, because if the Greater Iran emerges north of the Gulf and the Sea of Oman, 15 countries will join Iran. If the Greater Iran is formed, it will interfere with global policymaking. Our duty is to bring back again the glory, greatness and might of ancient Persia, and we can carry out this task,” he told Payame Noor University students in Dec. 2020.
- On Israel: “We would raze Tel Aviv to the ground for sure. We have been looking for such a pretext. If they do something, we can use it as a pretext to attack Israel, because Israel played a role in the martyrdom of Gen. Soleimani. It was the Israelis who reported about the martyr Soleimani’s trip from Damascus to Baghdad. We were waiting for the Americans to give us a pretext to strike Tel Aviv, just like we attacked Ain al Asad,” he said in an interview with a Lebanese TV channel on Feb. 8, 2020.
Alireza Zakani, born in 1965, is a conservative politician and owner of the Jahan News website. He holds a doctorate in nuclear medicine. During the Iran-Iraq war, he served in the Irregular Warfare Headquarters, a paramilitary wing. He rose to the rank of deputy intelligence commander in the 27th Mohammad Rasoul Allah Division. After the war, Zakani became the head of the Student Basij Organization, a volunteer paramilitary organization operating under the Revolutionary Guards. Zakani managed all Basij student groups in Tehran province.
In 2004, Zakani was elected to Parliament representing Tehran; he was reelected twice. In 2005, he worked as campaign director for Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s failed presidential campaign. Zakani ran for president in 2013 and 2017, but was disqualified by the Guardian Council both times. In Parliament, Zakani was a vocal critic of the Rouhani administration. In 2015, he demanded that Parliament review the 2015 nuclear deal before ratifying it. In September 2015, he accused Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh of financial corruption and later criticized the minister for signing a multibillion-dollar contract with French energy firm Total. Zakani lost his seat in parliament in 2016, but was reelected in 2020.
- On the nuclear deal: "We will witness a decrease in the number of IAEA inspectors compared to what Iran has promised in the NPT” if sanctions are not lifted on Iran, he told Parliament on Feb. 14, 2021.
Julia Dickson, an intern at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, helped assemble this report.