The election to succeed outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is less than six months away but already speculation is heating up about who will succeed the controversial leader who has staked his legacy on Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program.
Many of the potential contenders have one thing overwhelmingly in common – they are all currently involved in international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
Hassan Rohani, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 until 2005, has passively expressed interest in running for the seat. He has previously stated that Iran’s current approach is too confrontational and that a ‘new tone’ is needed. Rohani is remarkable for his very public disputes with President Ahmadinejad over the nation’s nuclear program which lead to his removal in 2005.
Another potential candidate is Ali Larijani, the current speaker of the Iranian parliament, who took over from Rohani as lead negotiator in 2005 but resigned two years later because of conflicts with Ahmadinejad. The conservative Islamic Stability Front has announced their support for his candidacy.
Ali Akhbar Salehi, foreign minister and former chief of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, is rumored to be a candidate but has completely denied he will be running.
The three men are tied together by their histories with the nuclear program in Iran, which ultimately makes them close associates of Iran’s ultimate arbiter of power, Ayatollah Khameini. It is reportedly a mark of political prestige in Iran to be a member of the nuclear club and an associate of the Ayatollah because very few are allowed into the ruling cleric’s inner circle.
A close relationship to the Ayatollah does not guarantee public support – Ali Larijani, the closest to the Ayatollah, received only 4% of the popular vote in the 2005 Iranian presidential election.
The possibility of three candidates with such close ties to the nuclear program illustrate how salient an issue the nuclear confrontation with the West has become over the years. Many conservatives who came to power in 2005 now fear that Iran’s nuclear ambitions threaten not only their power, but also the very existence of the Islamic republic.