AP/Vahid Salemi
Iran's incumbent presdient Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad stands in front of a photo
of Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali

Iran’s Presidential Candidates Emerge, but Does Its President Have Any Power?

May 12, 2009 08:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Only a small fraction of the 475 people who registered to run for president in Iran will be allowed to, illustrating the Supreme Leader's power.

Top Candidates for Iranian President Criticize Incumbent

The number of people who registered to run for president of Iran in next month's election was less than half the amount who registered to run during the 2005 presidential election. According to the New York Times, among the registrants this time were 40 women, although it not thought that the women will actually be allowed to run.

According to the Times, a panel called the “Guardian Council” has to approve an applicant before he or she can become an official candidate. In the last election only six were chosen of more than 1000 who registered. After screening this year’s registrants the panel will not likely approve more than that number. The panel’s views tend toward conservative Islam, and the members look at the candidates’ “religious and political qualifications,” the Times said.

The four potential candidates thought to have the best chance at winning the election are incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohsen Resaei, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mehdi Karroubi. While the three contenders do not share political views, they do share a sharp criticism of Ahmadinejad, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to criticizing Ahmadinejad for the state of the Iranian economy, Karroubi pointed to the incumbent's denial of the holocaust (which Ahmadinejad again stated during the UN conference on racism in April) in order to create more opposition for the current president.

Ahmadinejad has not announced officially that he will run for a second term, but his move to release U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi from an Iranian jail this week may indicate that he is looking to create good public relations for himself in anticipation of the election. Saberi was convicted of espionage after a closed door trial and has since been appealing the decision. Her jailing has been highly criticized in the international community.

“Roxana's release works for the public relations of the incumbent president,” said an anonymous source the Los Angeles Times describes as “an aide to one of his rivals.”

Background: Division of power: Iran's Supreme Leader and President

Much like in the United States, Iran holds presidential elections every four years, and a president is limited to serving two terms in office. Voters are eligible at age 18 and both men and women are allowed to vote. According to PBS, voters also elect members of the parliament and the assembly of experts.

Unlike the United States, Iran has a position that is more powerful than the presidency, the position of Supreme Leader currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader is not elected, he is appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader directs the country’s foreign and domestic policy; appoints military leaders and those in control of much of Iran’s finances. He also controls the media, “He actually has much more control than an American president,” Karim Sadjadpour, who studies Khamenei, told NPR.

And, in a way, the Supreme Leader even has control over the public elections as he appoints half of the Council of Guardians, who in turn can approve or deny any candidate who wants to run for a publicly elected office.

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