Upcoming Iranian Presidential Elections: Candidates, Policies, & Potential Outcomes

Reading Time: 15 minutes

The Iranian political system is wholly influenced by the Supreme Leader, who holds true authority over all state matters.  The Guardian Council, a body composed of clerics and jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader and the judiciary, effectively screens candidates for public office, including presidential candidates, ensuring adherence to Islamic principles and political loyalty.  This vetting process disqualifies many reformist or independent candidates, thereby limiting genuine political competition.  As a result, Iran’s leadership structure is fundamentally predetermined by the ruling clerical establishment rather than a reflection of the electorate.  Out of hundreds who register, only a select few pass this rigorous vetting process, ensuring that only those who align with the regime’s values and ideology are allowed to run.  

An overview of the 2024 presidential elections

The upcoming elections, scheduled one year earlier due to the unexpected death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, feature six presidential hopefuls approved by the Guardian Council.  The candidates are primarily hardliners, with only one reformist among them.  The list includes Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Saeed Jalili, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Alireza Zakani, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, and Masoud Pezeshkian.  Regardless of the outcome of the election, the incoming president faces a besieged economy marked by widespread public discontent resulting from high inflation and the impact of ongoing Western sanctions, as well as escalating tensions with the United States, increased nuclear development activities, and the challenges of ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Candidate 1: Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf

Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf (Ghalibaf), the current speaker of the Iranian Parliament and a member of the conservative party, Progress and Justice Population of Islamic Iran, is one of the regime’s favorites.  He served as the chief of police, a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the mayor of Tehran.  He ran for president in 2005, 2013, and 2017 but withdrew from the 2017 race in favor of former president Raisi, who finished second to the winning moderate, Hassan Rouhani.  Ghalibaf appears to have the support of Ayatollah Khamenei’s closest inner circles, particularly his son, Mojtaba Khamenei (Mojtaba), who is speculated to be the candidate for the next Supreme Leader.  Mojtaba has been one of the main financial and logistical advisors for Ghalibaf’s previous presidential campaigns and the apparent “backbone” of his entire political career.

If Ghalibaf is the de facto chosen candidate of the Khamenei family, his presidency would likely continue enforcing current hardline policies and further align with Ayatollah Khamenei’s strong anti-Western sentiment.  If elected, Ghalibaf is expected to prioritize bolstering Iran’s military and security forces, given his IRGC ties and conservative stance.  His economic policies would likely focus on achieving self-sufficiency and resilience against Western sanctions, promoting domestic industries and alternative trade partnerships with countries like China and Russia.  On the nuclear issue, Ghalibaf would likely maintain a firm stance on Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology, possibly pushing for more stringent negotiations with Western powers.  Domestically, Ghalibaf would emphasize the enforcement of conservative Islamic values, likely advocating for stricter social policies and reinforcing the power of religious institutions.  His governance approach is expected to include tight control over media and education to align with these values.  Drawing from his experience as the mayor of Tehran, he may also focus on urban development and infrastructure projects to improve public services and the quality of life in cities, thereby aiming to garner broader public support.  Under Ghalibaf’s administration, relations with the West would likely remain strained, with little hope for diplomatic engagement or easing of sanctions.

If Ghalibaf is the de facto chosen candidate of the Khamenei family, his presidency would likely continue enforcing current hardline policies and further align with Ayatollah Khamenei’s strong anti-Western sentiment.

Ghalibaf’s biggest challenge is overcoming his public image, which is marred by controversies.  For instance, an audio recording surfaced in 2022 implicating Ghalibaf in covering up a USD 3 billion embezzlement during his tenure as mayor of Tehran, wherein he suggested signing a fake contract to hide the funds’ disappearance.  That same year, photos of Ghalibaf’s family returning with expensive baby clothes from a shopping trip in Turkey sparked controversy.  This was following his own past criticisms of a presidential candidate for purchasing baby clothes in Italy while Iranians faced severe economic hardships.  Additionally, Ghalibaf’s son, Es’haq, reportedly had his permanent residency application in Canada denied in February 2024 due to public pressure.  Namely, two petitions were signed by Iranian Canadians who claimed that the government should not provide residence to Ghalibaf’s family members as he is directly responsible for “terrorism and human rights violations.”  In 2022, the Canadian government imposed sanctions on Ghalibaf and several other members of the IRGC in response to systematic human rights violations, proclaiming Iran a threat to international peace and security.  Furthermore, leaked documents revealed that Es’haq has hundreds of thousands of dollars in his foreign bank accounts in Australia and New Zealand, which raised suspicions that Es’haq was laundering his father’s money.  The origin of these assets is a mystery, given that Parliament speakers earn no more than USD 4,000 a month.  The purpose of keeping the money in foreign accounts is yet to be investigated, and questions were raised about whether it could be related to Iran’s financial support to proxies like Hezbollah and other militant groups.

Candidate 2: Saeed Jalili

Another prominent candidate close to the regime is Saeed Jalili (Jalili), who is best known for his role as Iran’s chief nuclear deal negotiator from 2007 to 2013.  Jalili is part of the uncompromising leaders who opposed the nuclear deal in 2015.  He held various high-profile positions, serving as the director of policy planning in the Office of the Supreme Leader in the 2000s, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, as well as at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He was also a member of the Expeditionary Council, the Supreme Leader’s main advisory body that serves as the arbitrator between the Guardian Council and the Parliament.  Jalili holds a PhD from the Imam Sadegh University, an ideological training ground for the regime, and has worked there as a professor and one of the main ideologues of the Islamic Revolution.  He is considered a revolutionary symbol and is widely referred to as “the living martyr” since he lost a leg in the Iraqi-Iranian war in 1986 at the age of 21.  Jalili represents the hardline theocratic faction of the establishment and has little sympathy from the West, having consistently advocated for increasing uranium enrichment while opposing Western influence and restraints on the country’s nuclear development.

If elected, Jalili’s presidency would likely signal Iran’s continuing pursuit of aggressive nuclear policies and a steadfast refusal to compromise with Western powers, maintaining high tension and confrontation in international relations.  Jalili’s hardline stance further extends to his support for Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts and providing assistance to Hezbollah and Hamas, viewing them as essential for maintaining Iran’s strategic depth.

Jalili and Ghalibaf are both perceived as “status-quo” candidates and if elected, they would likely be seen as only enforcers of the Supreme Leader’s agenda.  Even so, there are speculations that Ghalibaf is trying to undermine Jalili’s campaign, presenting himself as a “pragmatic hardliner” and thus appealing to reformist voters and moderate conservatives.

Candidate 3: Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi

Another pro-establishment conservative, albeit with a lower chance of winning, is Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi (Hashemi), the current vice president and head of the paramilitary organization Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation.  A physician and former Parliament member, Hashemi aligns his political stance closely with conservative values, as he has been best known for his involvement in the financial support of Iran’s regional proxy groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  His presidency would likely mean extending support to such groups and continuing Iran’s adversarial stance towards Israel and the West.  Consequently, Hashemi’s administration would sustain the existing hostility towards Western nations, potentially exacerbating regional tensions and further isolating Iran.  One of the central points of his policies would likely emphasize the importance of maintaining Iran’s influence in the Middle East through its proxy networks.

Despite being more of a dark horse candidate, Hashemi comes from a well-respected and influential family within conservative circles that could potentially rally significant support for him.  Hashemi’s cousin is Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the former Minister of Health under former president Rouhani, and his older brother is Ehsan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a current representative in the Parliament.

Jalili and Ghalibaf are both perceived as “status-quo” candidates and if elected, they would likely be seen as only enforcers of the Supreme Leader’s agenda.

Candidate 4: Alireza Zakani

Alireza Zakani (Zakani) was also identified as a dark horse conservative candidate.  He is the current mayor of Tehran and a former head of the IRGC’s Student Basij Organization, who was sanctioned by the United Kingdom for human rights abuses.  Zakani has been known for enforcing strict hijab regulations and criticizing the nuclear deal.  As Zakani’s tenure as mayor has been marked by efforts to suppress dissent and control public behavior, his presidency would likely emphasize strict adherence to conservative Islamic values and a non-compromising stance on national security issues.  Under Zakani’s administration, human rights violations would likely continue, and there would be little progress on nuclear negotiations, leading to sustained or increased sanctions and a continued adversarial relationship with the West.

Zakani’s presidential campaign has already faced setbacks.  In June 2024, the media reported that the Tehran government paid out an additional USD 400 to each of the 140,000 city administration employees as salary arrears.  The move was widely criticized by the public, who perceived the additional governmental spending when one-third of Iranians live below the poverty line extremely distasteful.  Also, the public questioned why salary arrears were suddenly paid out in the middle of the presidential campaign, as it raised suspicions that the money was disbursed to influence voters and garner public support for Zakani.  Moreover, it was reported that Zakani appointed his deputy for financial affairs, Lotfollah Forouzandeh, as the head of his campaign team, which indicates that public resources could be unlawfully used for bribing the voters.  With such a start, it is hardly likely that Zakani could beat the other conservative candidates, as he may be perceived as more corrupt than the others.

Candidate 5: Mostafa Pourmohammadi

The most infamous candidate is also the only cleric, Mostafa Pourmohammadi (Pourmohammadi), a former Minister of Justice and Interior.  He is known for his role in the “Death Committee” that approved the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s.  Earlier in 2024, he was disqualified from running in the elections for the Assembly of Experts, a body consisting of theologians who appoint the Supreme Leader and oversee his work.  He was considered “morally unfit,” suggesting he was too moderate for the position.  However, observers question if this decision was not a strategic act of the Guardian Council, which has approved Pourmohammadi’s current presidential candidacy, suggesting the intention to position him as “a moderate candidate” despite many considering him little more than a puppet of theocratic establishment.

Nevertheless, reports indicate that Pourmohammadi is the only candidate with an organized campaign and a well-known campaign manager, Hojjatollah Ayubi, the former deputy at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.  Ayubi is considered one of the most liberal officials in the Islamic Republic’s history regarding cinema, as he supported female actresses and endorsed movies like Yahya Did Not Stay Silent, whose main star, Fatemeh Motamed-Aria, was criticized for not wearing a hijab at the movie premier at Cannes Festival in 2010.  Some of his potential voters might have this in mind when considering Pourmohammadi as a more liberal candidate.

The most infamous candidate is also the only cleric, Pourmohammadi,  known for his role in the “Death Committee” that approved the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

There are other indicators that show that Pourmohammadi tends to present himself as a moderate.  For example, he is the only candidate who has expressed awareness of the declining public support for the regime and acknowledged the fact that the younger generations have distanced themselves from the Islamic Revolution.  During the first presidential debate, which took place on 17 June 2024, Pourmohammadi expressed a more moderate viewpoint on international relations and the economy.  He pointed out that Iran needs to normalize its relations with the national community and that it “needs to avoid confrontation with other countries and employ effective diplomacy to open up new opportunities.”  However, this is believed to be a political spin intended to confuse moderate voters and cause a vote-splitting effect that would damage seemingly more legitimate reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian (Pezeshkian).  It is instead more likely that Pourmohammadi’s presidency would uphold the current regime’s policies, focusing on internal security and maintaining a strong stance against Western interference.  Accordingly, Pourmohammadi’s administration would probably perpetuate Iran’s isolation and continue the regime’s oppressive domestic policies, further straining relations with the West.

Candidate 6: Masoud Pezeshkian

Amidst this array of hardliners, Pezeshkian emerges as the only reformist candidate, although it is widely believed that he is no more than “an establishment token” whose candidacy was approved to create an illusion of political pluralism.  A heart surgeon and former health minister, Pezeshkian is a member of Parliament for Tabriz and is known for his moderate views.  He has criticized the government over issues like hijab enforcement and has supported the Iran nuclear deal.  It was anticipated that Pezeshkian’s presidency could see a more open and conciliatory approach towards the West, aiming to reduce tensions and improve Iran’s international standing.  At the same time, his moderate stance and focus on public health and social issues could appeal to younger and more progressive voters.  It was hoped his administration might lead to renewed negotiations and potential easing of sanctions.

However, his recent interview on state television left some potential voters disillusioned over his unwillingness to criticize the establishment openly.  As reported, Pezeshkian said that he would not introduce new economic strategies and policies but would rather implement the existing ones in a more transparent and accountable manner.  While Pezeshkian’s chances of winning were already slim given the current political climate, which heavily favors conservative candidates, the disappointment of the pro-reform voters with his campaigning thus far appears to affirm predictions of his demise.

It was anticipated that Pezeshkian’s presidency could see a more open and conciliatory approach towards the West, aiming to reduce tensions and improve Iran’s international standing.

On the other hand, a Pezeshkian presidency could offer a glimmer of hope for moderate reforms and improved relations with the West.  Domestically, he might attempt to implement moderate reforms, though his ability to effect significant change would be limited by the entrenched conservative power structures.  Economically, Pezeshkian could seek to engage with Western nations to ease sanctions and improve economic conditions.  However, his chances of winning are low, and even if he did, navigating the conservative establishment would be a formidable challenge.  Pezeshkian’s potential presidency represents a slim possibility for change but one that faces enormous obstacles.


Although a moderate candidate like Pezeshkian could attract younger voters, the upcoming election is expected to see a low voter turnout, as many Iranians perceive the system as rigged and ineffective.  The more informed parts of the public may still be suspicious of Pezeshkian’s moderate stance, as some may recall him calling the United States a terrorist state and shouting “Death to America” with other lawmakers in the Parliament in 2019.  With that in mind, a significant part of voters perceive Pezeshkian as “a trojan horse,” no less than Pourmohammadi, believing that the entire election process is but a charade.  Thus, the Guardian Council’s narrow selection of candidates reflects the Supreme Leader’s preference for continuity over change, favoring candidates who align with his hardline vision for Iran.  This is why Ghalibaf and Jalili are considered the frontrunners in this race, as they are deeply entrenched within the regime and have significant support from conservative factions.  Ghalibaf’s strong ties with Khamenei’s inner circle and Jalili’s revolutionary credentials make them favored candidates.

A presidency under either Ghalibaf or Jalili would likely result in the continuation of the regime’s repressive policies, including crackdowns on dissent and maintaining strict social controls.  Economically, both would focus on self-reliance and resistance to Western economic pressure, leading to continued economic hardships and sanctions.  In terms of foreign policy, relations with the West would remain antagonistic, with little room for negotiation or compromise on critical issues like the nuclear program and regional interventions.  Overall, the prospect of a Ghalibaf or Jalili presidency suggests a bleak outlook for any significant change in Iran’s domestic or international policies.


As Iran heads towards the election, the political landscape appears heavily skewed towards maintaining the status quo.  The candidates approved by the Guardian Council offer limited choices for genuine change, reflecting the Supreme Leader’s desire for continuity and control.  The elections’ outcome will significantly affect Iran’s domestic policies, economic situation, and international relations.  With hardliners likely to prevail, the country seems poised for further isolation and continued adversarial relations with the West.  Finally, the elections will likely reinforce the existing power dynamics within Iran, ensuring the regime’s grip on power remains unchallenged.

Cover image credits: www.freepik.com