Iran’s Election: Where the Candidates Stand


By Ladane NasseriKambiz Foroohar and Mira Rojanasakul

May 16, 2017

Iran’s May 19 election is being fought as a referendum on the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric who championed integrating Iran with the global economy and curbed his nation’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from sanctions. His opponents say gains from the nuclear deal are yet to make their way down to the majority of ordinary Iranians.

Candidates for the 2017 Iranian Presidential Election


“For Rouhani, For Iran”

“The Government of Work and Dignity”

“The Government of the People”

Dropped out and threw support to Raisi

Hassan Rouhani



Age: 68

Ebrahim Raisi

Head of the powerful Astan Quds charitable foundation


Age: 56


Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

Tehran Mayor


Age: 55


Rouhani is a former nuclear negotiator and has been the president since 2013. Central to his legacy is the 2015 deal struck with world powers that rolled back economic sanctions and curbed Iran’s nuclear program. He has used the campaign to attack his opponents over personal freedoms, corruption and wealthy state bodies that don’t pay tax.


Raisi has held a number of judicial roles, including more recently that of deputy judiciary chief and prosecutor general. He was appointed by Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to manage the wealthy Islamic charity that also controls Iran’s holy shrine in the city of Mashhad.

Qalibaf is a former Revolutionary Guards air force commander and an ex-chief of the security force. He has long had his eyes set on the presidency, running in 2005 and again in 2013, when he trailed Rouhani. Qalibaf has been the mayor of Tehran since 2005.

“All for Iran”

“Protecting Iran”

“Integrity and Truth”

Eshagh Jahangiri

First Vice-President


Age: 59


Mostafa Hashemitaba

Former Vice President of Iran


Age: 70



Mostafa Mirsalim

Former Minster of Culture and Islamic Guidance


Age: 69


A former industry and mines minister, Jahangiri has indicated he is running to boost the president’s campaign and will not be competing with him. He is expected to drop out before the election and support Rouhani.

A former top official of Iran’s physical education organization and National Olympic Committee, Hashemitaba was the only reformist allowed to run by the Guardian Council. He is a supporter of the nuclear accord and in the three debates was outspoken about economic harm done by the administration of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

An engineer and former minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Mirsalim was an adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei when he was president in the 1980s. Educated in France, Mir-salim closed a number of newspapers during his tenure.

A victory for Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani’s leading conservative challenger, would likely worsen already-tense relations with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump—who has described the 2015 nuclear deal as a disaster and Iran as a terrorist-supporting nation that needs to be confronted. A hardline president would also be a further deterrent for foreign investors, the very people Rouhani maintains his country needs to boost its economy and standing in the world.

The following is a run-down of where the top two candidates in the polls stand on the major issues that will face the incoming president.

U.S. Relations

Hostility has been a defining characteristic of Iran-U.S. relations during the four-decade history of the Islamic Republic. President Hassan Rouhani broke a taboo when he spoke on the phone in 2013 with then-U.S. President Barack Obama. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has adopted a more aggressive approach to Iran. That, in turn, has fueled discussion in the Iranian state media and during the election debates as to whether the country needed a more confrontational leader to stand up to the U.S.

Rouhani has been of a proponent of active diplomacy with all countries, including arch-foe U.S.

Raisi has said Iran should project a strong and unified front vis-a-vis the U.S.


Iran’s economy has seen an improvement since the lifting of sanctions in January 2016, with inflation curbed to single digits, from a high of over 40 percent, and gross domestic product growth estimated at more than 6 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March. Unemployment has figured prominently in the election campaign, with Rouhani’s challengers saying he hasn’t done enough to convert the economic improvement into jobs for the poorer majority.

Rouhani says Iran needs foreign investment and technology to grow its economy. He has underlined the need for Iran to be a safe environment for investors—including Western ones.

Raisi says he can create up to 1.5 million jobs a year and will multiply, by twofold or threefold, subsidies to low income Iranians to “eradicate poverty”.

Nuclear Deal

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., is central to Rouhani’s legacy—and his pitch for a second term. He delivered on a 2013 pledge to end Iran’s economic isolation after years of ever-tighter global sanctions. Rouhani’s rivals have said the nuclear deal is a national document and needs to be respected by the next government, despite the “flaws” it contains. The governments in Tehran and Washington have accused one another of not living up to the spirit of the agreement, raising questions over its fate should ties between the two spiral downward.

Rouhani says the deal has put Iran on a safe track, away from risks of war and on the path to prosperity.

Raisi says the deal’s “check has not been credited” to Iran yet, and he will be working on making its benefits felt by all Iranians.

Social Freedom

Rouhani has backed greater social freedoms for Iranians. For example, he portrays a freer internet as a civil right and an opportunity, rather than the propagator of immoral behavior seen by some hardliners. But progress has been slow. If he’s re-elected and attempts to deliver the more-liberated Iran that he’s talked about during the election campaign, he’ll have to finally confront conservative institutions that wield a lot of power.

Internet Censorship in Iran

Ratio of censored vs. uncensored content from the top 500 websites across 18 categories, based on analysis of Alexa web-traffic rankings in 2013

Rouhani is a proponent of a “less policed” society and less state intervention in people’s lives.

Raisi says constructive criticism of the government can be allowed. He has spoken in favor of technology and the Internet insofar as they can be arenas for job creation, but he says they must not infringe on the privacy of Iranians.


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