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Here's what to know about Iran's presidential election

Pictured from left: Saeed Jalili, Masoud Pezeshkian, Mostafa Pourmohammadi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.
 Raheb Homavandi/AFP via Getty Images; Vahid Salemi/AP; Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/IRIB via AP; Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images
Pictured from left: Saeed Jalili, Masoud Pezeshkian, Mostafa Pourmohammadi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

ISTANBUL — Iran is holding an election on Friday to pick a successor to its president who died in a helicopter crash last month.

Iran's critics are quick to point out the country's elections are not free or fair, and the unelected supreme leader holds the most power. Yet the president is the highest-elected official and can influence domestic and some foreign policies.

Here are some of the main things to know about the Iranian presidential election.

When is Iran's election?

Voting in Iran begins on Friday, June 28, at 8 a.m. and polls are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. local time.

This is not a regularly scheduled election — it wasn't supposed to happen until next year. But the government called what's known as a snap election in the wake of the May 19 helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as the foreign minister and other officials.

Mohammad Mokhber, who was appointed acting president, is not one of the candidates.

Who's running for president of Iran?

Iran’s Guardian Council, charged with vetting candidates, had winnowed down a long list of hopefuls to just six candidate: five hard-line conservatives and one reformist.

But in the lead-up to the vote this week, two candidates dropped out of the race, according to Iranian news media. One is Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs who had served as one of Raisi's vice presidents. The other is the mayor of the capital Tehran, Alireza Zakani. Neither is a reformist.

That leaves four remaining candidates.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf: The 62-year-old Qalibaf is Iran’s parliament speaker, and former Tehran mayor. He has extensive military ties and was seen early on as the front-runner.

Saeed Jalili: A hard-line conservative and former nuclear negotiator with strong anti-Western views, the 58-year-old Jalili is a veteran of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, in which he lost a leg. Prior to that, he was a member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Masoud Pezeshkian: The lone reformist candidate is also the oldest at age 69. He has called for greater outreach to the outside world as a means of improving Iran’s economy.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi: The 64-year-old is the only Shia Muslim cleric running in this election. He has served in Iran’s Interior and Intelligence Ministries, among other positions.

Why is the result important?

For Iranian hard-liners, the goal is to maintain their grip on the presidency, and critics say the Guardian Council has laid the groundwork for that to happen. That is not the same as keeping a grip on power — in Iran, the power to make most major decisions rests with the supreme leader.

But with the long-ruling Ayatollah Ali Khamenei now 85 years old, there is broad speculation about who could replace him. The late President Raisi himself was considered a protégé of Khamenei and a possible successor.

Reform-minded voters would like to see a surprise presidential victory for their candidate — although in Pezeshkian’s recent campaign appearances some people, including younger voters, have been disappointed by his positions.

Even so, there are signs that Iran’s supreme leader wants to send a clear message that even the relatively mildly reformist ideas advanced by Pezeshkian — such as greater engagement with other countries — are unacceptable. Khamenei singled out the reformist candidate for criticism when he said those who believe “all ways to progress” come from the United States shouldn’t be supported.

Barring the unexpected, observers don’t predict much change to come out of this vote.

No candidate, for instance, is promising to pursue policies that would be controversial, such as addressing the strict Islamic dress code for women that led to the arrest of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022 by Iran’s so-called morality police. Her death in custody, which a United Nations mission has found to be unlawful, sparked nationwide protests seen as the strongest threat to the regime since it came to power.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.