Iran elections: why undecided voters matter

“If the election were held today, who would you vote for?”. Less than ten days before the Iranians will vote to determine who will be the next president of the Islamic Republica new IPPO Group poll of voting intentions in Iran shows that there is a relevant percentage of undecided.

Two Iranian women talk at a corner of a square in northern Tehran February 26, 2012.
Two Iranian women talk at a corner of a square in northern Tehran February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Although 24.5 percent of respondents predict that the current moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has bigger chances to be (re)elected and win a second turn, 36.3 percent of Iranians do not know which candidate can meet their expectations for the future.

About55 million Iranians are reportedly eligible to vote, but it is still uncertain how many people will actually go to the polls on May 19th. This will be the 12th presidential election in the country since 1979. According to official numbers, in the last round, held in 2013, 72 percent of over 50 million eligible voters participated.

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Voting intentions in numbers

According to the survey conducted by the International Perspectives for Public Opinion Group, the pragmatist and incumbent vice president Eshagh Jahangiri would get 1.3 percent of preferences. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran and former commander of Revolutionary Guards’ air force and ex Iran’s Chief of police, would gain 10.5 percent of votes.

On May 15th, Ghalibaf withdrew in favor of the principalist Ebrahim Raisi. More than 4.5 percent of the people interviewed said that they would choose Raisi, the custodian of Iran’s holiest religious shrine in Mashhad, who might get now more votes. Mostafa Mirsalim (former minister of Culture), and former pro-reform vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba would attract 8 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

After Ghalibaf's decision to leave the campaign, the race turned into a head-to-head contest Rouhani versus Raisi. 

Three main domestic challenges 

Economic inequality, unemployment and a general disillusion toward positive changes through the elections constitute the three key factors that can affect the results. Especially for Rouhani, a crucial challenge is represented by those who may not go to the polls to renew their trust: in this sense, undecided matter. He is the president who carried the burdenof leading Iran to a new economic and political stage through the Nuclear Deal (the agreement between the 5 + 1 countries, together with the EU). He was expected to make a differenceand put into effect a paradigm shift from past and years under Ahmadinejad’s presidency. On the one hand, he did bring the inflation rate down to 9.5 percent (a record in the last twenty-five years). On the other hand, unemployment is around 12 percent (30 percent for the youth) and the industrial sector is still trekking a long path to recover.

His critics and rivals are exploiting these weak points to transform the economy into a true battleground. As already mentioned here, while Raisi promised – if elected –  to “create 1.5 million jobs every year”, Ghalibaf pledged to give about 80 dollars per month to each jobless Iranian across the country.

Therefore, all these elements can influence voters mind and, consequently, their mobilization.Since the very beginning of the campaign, on April 21st, each candidate has been granted 1470 minutes on air in TV and radio, including the debates: history will tell us who will better convince Iranians.

Balance(s) of power and the Supreme leader succession: two crucial issues beyond elections

What is at stake? The next president will trace the path to the future of the Islamic Republic, on three levels: domestically, regionally (the struggle with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East), and internationally (the post-nuclear deal in the Trump era). On May 19th,, what will be clearer is the direction Iran wants to go. There are two scenarios: stressing on its republican or its theocratic nature. In this context, whether Rouhani will be re-elected or not, new polarizations and balances of power will be shaped, between moderates/pragmatists and principalists. 

This means that the Supreme leader succession will be a fundamental turning point. As explained to Reuters by Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council,"this election is not only about choosing the president. It's about succession after Khamenei. The IRGC [who are mainly supporting Raisi] believe that it's their chance to completely eliminate the technocrats and control the succession process after Khamenei”.

This article has been edited on May 15th after Ghalibaf's announcement.


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