First and foremost, the most important question: who is the likely winner this Friday 19th of May when Iranians go to the polls?
Iranian elections are difficult to call. Many of us have gotten it wrong before. From outside of Iran, based on observing social media, campaigns and polls (which are not always reliable) and opinions of Iranians living in Iran on social media, it seems that Rouhani has a better chance. He could win. But there is no guarantee.
In the 2005 elections many Iran observers (including myself) believed that there was little doubt that Rafsanjani will win. Many did not give Ahmadinejad a chance. But the latter, against all expectation ultimately won the elections.
What happened? The Revolutionary Guards and the Baseej (million strong people’s militia) took to the country on a major scale to campaign for Ahmadinejad. They reached far away remote places where Rafsanjani who did not have the support of the regime controlled security establishment did not reach. And this gave Ahmadinejad a big push at the ballot box. The same could be happening for Raisi, whose position is much closer to the regime, the leadership of the IRGC and the Baseej. They could be doing the same for him. That why although the scenario of a Rouhani victory seems more likely, the scenario of Raisi surprising everyone should not be dismissed.
(As a side note Rafsanjani believed there were chatings against him in 2005).
And what if Rouhani wins?
Short term assessment:
– Expect a backlash from the hardliners. Every time they lose, they arrest more people in Iran, crackdown even more on the press, and become even more hostile against the West.
Why? Because they know that these are the areas which the Reformist and the Moderates want to improve. Therefore they will try to weaken them and make them look feeble in front of their voters by doing things which the winning camp has stood against. We saw it when Khatami won his second term in 2001, we saw it when Rouhani was elected in 2013, and we saw it again after the recent nuclear deal.
What if Raisi wins?
Short term assessment:
-Raisi is a regime man, through and through. He has had the trust of supreme leader Khamenei for many years. There are numerous examples which show this. One is that in the 90s Raisi sat on the board of trustees for Khamenei’s own foundation known as “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (believed to be worth $95 billion). The other is the fact that he was appointed as the head of the Imam Reza Gateway Foundation, one of the richest regime foundations in Khamenei’s city of Mashhad, where both Khamenei and Raisi come from. There are also other examples.
This means if elected, compared to Rouhani, Raisi is likely to have an easier time implementing his economic policies, as Raisi is closer to the regime and is likely to have its support. In the short term this could mean more jobs and more populist economic policies such as more cash handouts:meaning higher inflation and more government debt to banks and local contractors. In term of foreign policy, he attacked the Saudis during his campaign, and this is likely to continue if he becomes president. In general we should expect a more combative foreign policy and crackdown on social issues such as women’s right and access to Internet, among others.