Iran’s Reformists Unite Behind Rowhani
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Iran’s Reformists Unite Behind Rowhani


Iran’s Reformists have now united around a single presidential candidate, but the available polls suggest it won’t be enough to secure Iran’s presidency.

Two relatively reformist candidates had been competing for the presidential election before Monday— Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, and Mohammad Reza Aref, a former vice president. Both men served in these positions under Iran’s Reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Rowhani’s campaign has gained more acclaim over the past few weeks and many Reformist leaders were reportedly seeking to push Aref out of the race to prevent a split in their supporters’ votes.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

On Tuesday, Aref announced he was bowing out of the race, citing pressure from former President Khatami.

“On Monday evening, I received a letter from Mr. Mohammad Khatami and decided my presence to the election is not beneficial to overall reform,” Aref said in a statement on his website.

This paves the way for Rowhani to win all of the Reformist votes.

Rowhani is a rare figure in Iranian political circles in that he enjoys support from all of Iran’s major factions, with the possible exception of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The only cleric in the race, Rowhani is a protégé of former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, served as head of the Supreme National Security Council during Khatami’s presidency, and in recent years has been a foreign policy advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.  

Since announcing his candidacy, however, he has clearly vied for the Reformist vote by denouncing the degree of censorship and restrictions of social mores in the country during the Ahmadinejad administration.

"There should be an end to the suppression and radicalism of the last eight years," Rowhani said at a recent rally Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Rowhani has always been a harsh critic of Ahmadinejad’s confrontational foreign policy—when Ahmadinejad first became president, Rowhani refused to continue serving on as head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to former Iranian officials—and has said that if he is elected president he would seek to improve Iran’s standing in the world.

Still, even with the Reformist vote behind him, Rowhani is unlikely to win Friday’s election. A recent phone survey of Iranians by the U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions found that if voters supporting Rowhani and Aref united behind a single candidate, that candidate would tie for third place with Iran’s current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Although one survey is hardly definitive, it suggests Rowhani still faces an uphill battle. At best, Rowhani and the Reformists will finish in first or second place with no candidate receiving a majority of the ballots. This would trigger a run-off ballot between the candidates finishing with the two highest vote counts. In this scenario, Rowhani would face one of the Conservative candidates— most likely Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf or Jalili— in a one-on-one competition. With the Conservatives united behind a single candidate it’s extremely unlikely that Rowhani would prevail.

On the other hand, the victory of a Conservative or Principlist candidate will not signal that Iran’s political elite has become monolithic. Both the Reformists and Pragmatists are likely to continue exercising some influence, while intra-Conservative discord will rise proportionately with the decline in other factions’ influence. The failure of the Principlists or Conservatives to unite behind a single candidate in the upcoming election is proof enough of that.  

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief