Nine months before the next presidential election in Iran, concerns over the coronavirus pandemic has pushed competition over the post of president of the Islamic Republic to backstage.
Unofficial campaigning for presidential election in Iran usually starts as early as the inauguration of the second term of the incumbent President. Iranian media have lined up possible candidates several times before the pandemic overshadowed everything including the presidential race.
Last week when the last acts of the controversy over choosing the head of the State Auditing Organization was playing out, almost every report on the case also noted that Mehrdad Bazrpash who was finally chosen for the post is going to use the position as a step on the ladder to the presidency.
In fact, Bazrpash was a candidate in the 2017 presidential election, but in an odd way, he missed the deadline for registering his candidacy at the Interior Ministry. During the past week, as over 150 MPs mainly those affiliated with the ultraconservative Paydari Front lent him their support, many media reports pointed out the fact that Bazrpash would be the front's candidate for the 2021 presidential election in May 2021.
Regardless of the controversy over his credentials, he is an example of a "young revolutionary" president as Supreme Leader AIi Khamenei has determined. He is an ex-Basij (IRGC militia) member and has been in charge of a leading car manufacturing company for many years.
Another political figure who has been presenting himself as a candidate for quite some time is former State TV IRIB Chief Ezatollah Zarghami. Despite his hardliner background, Zarghami has been presenting himself as an advocate of human rights and civil liberties on every possible opportunity, defending women and youths in a way he never did when he was Culture Minister and later as head of the IRIB.
Currently a vocal member of the Cyberspace Task Force that operates under President Rouhani, he comes from a background in IRGC which makes him a revolutionary, although he is not as young as Bazrpash and has no track record in managing economic institutions.
According to leading economic website Eqtesad News, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi have made it clear that they will not run for president in 2021. However, denying intentions at this stage and a change of decision a couple of months before the election has been a routine practice in Iran since 1997 when Khatami announced his candidacy in late March for the election in May while he kept denying he had any intention to run during the preceding year.
Like Raeesi, Majles Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has also been a candidate in the previous round of presidential election in 2017, but although he has never concealed his ambition it is unlikely that the Majles and even Khamenei would allow him to run for president. He is already the head of one of the three powers of the government.
Two "young revolutionary" men are also being mentioned as potential candidates and some have even said Khamenei might support their candidacy although the Supreme Leader never names a candidate. But Iranians have seen candidates or kingmakers who portray a certain person as someone "liked" by Khamenei. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and Ayatollah Ali Jannati said that about Ahmadinejad in the 2005 and 2009 election.
The two "young revolutionaries" are Mostazafan Foundation chief Parviz Fattah and Vice-President for Scientific affairs Surena Sattari. The latter has been lately taking part in public events after a long time of silence and Fattah started his campaign-like activities a year ago. Recently while going around to oversee economic projects, he keeps portraying himself as someone close to former IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Fattah comes from an IRGC background indeed. None of the two have ever grown long beards probably hoping for popularity among younger Iranians.
Eqtesad News also names Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vice-President Es'haq Jahangiri, Tehran City Council Chief Mohsen Hashemi and former Majles Speaker Ali Larijani as potential candidates for the 2021 elections. From among the trio, Larijani is less likely to be willing to run as the modest number of votes he won in the 2005 presidential elections was an embarrassment.
Fararu news website has recently named several conservative individuals as potential candidates. They are: Raeesi, Qalibaf, Fattah and Bazrpash as well as MP Alireza Zakani, former Ahmadinejad cabinet minister Ali Nikzad, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and Islamic Propaganda Organization Chief Mohammad Qomi, who has been characterized by Fararua as "a young cleric with a smile."
There are many other lists of possible candidates for the 2021 presidential election in Iran and some political figures appear in more than one list. One of the most interesting combination of possible candidates has been named by the Mashad-based Shahrara News. It includes outspoken former MP Ali Motahari, Communication and Information Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Parviz Fattah, Surena Sattari, Mehrdad Bazrpash, Saeed Jalili, Es'haq Jahangiri, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Javad Zarif, Ali Larijani and former reformist MP Mohammad Reza Aref, some of whom lack "one or two criteria of a young revolutionary candidate well-versed in economics."
The four or six candidates to run officially for the post need to be vetted by the hardliner Guardian Council first. Some even say that they should meet with Khamenei beforehand and get his go-ahead to run.