It doesn't matter who wins Iran's presidency

Iran's president is simply a figurehead; its foreign policy lies in the hands of the Supreme Leader

It doesn't matter who wins Iran's presidency

Iran is headed for a second round of presidential elections after no candidate secured the required 50% of the vote to win the election, which saw record-low turnout. (It was around 40%—the lowest since the 1979 revolution.)

Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian and hardline conservative Saeed Jalili will compete in the run-off vote set to take place on 5 July. But regardless of who wins in the second round, Iran's international and regional policies—including its support for militias—will largely remain the same. Domestically, expect little change, either.

Same movie on repeat

Iran's election looks like a movie we've all seen before—the same script, same director, but a different protagonist. As observers, we can only critique the lead character's performance.

While some hold out hope that a reformist president could improve Iran's relations with neighbouring states by curbing its support for militias, this is highly unlikely. Let's not forget that it was under the reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, that Iran's military intervention to keep Bashar al-Assad in power was at its peak. He also oversaw the Houthi coup against the internationally-recognised government in Yemen.

This only underscores the belief that Iran's president is simply a figurehead and that its foreign policy lies in the hands of the Supreme Leader, in consultation with the Expediency Discernment Council and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iran's election looks like a movie we've all seen before—the same script, same director, but a different protagonist.

Despite the questions surrounding President Ebrahim Raisi's mysterious death in a helicopter crash, Iran has largely moved on from his passing. Shortly after his death was confirmed, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was quick to address the people. He said: "Despite the loss of President Raisi, nothing will change," and "the management of Iran affairs will not be affected at all." This is not because Iran is a country of laws and institutions but because it is one built around the Supreme Leader.

This was made crystal clear just a few days ago when dozens of 'reformist' political activists and media personalities issued a statement criticising the EU's decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, calling it a "clear and unacceptable threat and interference."

Little difference

This is further proof that Iranians—whether reformist or hardliner—generally support the Supreme Leader and the IRGC's role in the region—and in Iran itself. These two camps generally agree on policy but differ on how to execute it.

When reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian used the revolutionary song "For the Sake of..." about the killing of Mahsa Amini, Iranians were not fooled. They remembered how he labelled anti-government protests in 2022 as "disturbances" and condemned protest chants against Iran's Supreme Leader, accusing them of being directed by foreign influences.

Iran has a king; instead of a crown, he wears a turban. All important decisions lie with him. The debate on the presidential elections should not focus on the differences between reformists and hardliners but on the 60% of Iranians who boycotted the elections, which they see as a mere window dressing for the policies of the Supreme Leader.

font change