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Iran Elections: An Overview

Voters in Iran go to the polls Friday to elect a new president. Here is a review of the election process and the candidates.


  • Iranians are electing a new president to succeed Hashemi Rafsanjani, who after serving two four-year terms is barred by Iran's constitution from seeking a third term.

  • Iran's ruling religious establishment, the Council of Guardians, approved just four presidential candidates out of more than 200 applicants.

  • Any one over the age of 15 can cast a ballot

  • Turnout is expected to be high among the country's 32 million member electorate. More than 75 percent of eligible voters cast ballots during last year's parliamentary elections.

  • A candidate must win 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

  • This is the fifth presidential election held in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the shah.

  • Regardless of who wins the election, the president will remain subservient to the rules of the supreme leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri

The ultra-conservative speaker of Iran's parliament and a former interior minister, Nateq-Nouri, 54, is considered the front-runner. A cleric, he is a favorite of Iran's Islamic Shiite establishment and of the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has been backed by key clerical groups and is close to the bazaaris, traders who make up Iran's traditional merchant class and who fear their economic and political advantage are threatened by economic investment from outside Iran.

Conservative deputies have slowed Rafsanjani's market reforms but Nateq-Nouri's supporters now say he would push ahead with them if elected.

Mohammed Khatami

A cleric and former head of Iran's culture ministry, Khatami, 54, is considered to be the more progressive choice and Nateq-Noori's chief opponent. He appeals to intellectuals and moderates because he has a reputation for tolerance on cultural issues.

While serving as culture minister, he relaxed restrictions on public expression. Khatami was ultimately forced to resign his position because of his "liberal treatment of the press and arts" according to The Jerusalem Post.

Khatami has a powerful ally in Rafsanjani and analysts say he could attract enough votes to force a runoff.

Mohammed Mohammadi Reyshahri

Reyshahri, 51, was a revolutionary court judge. He became revolutionary Iran's first intelligence (internal security) minister from 1984 to 1989. He was prosecutor general from 1989 to 1993, when he was put in charge of Iranian Muslims' annual haj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

A fierce defender of Islamic values, he is known for his hard-line conservative views and has advocated closer adherence to the principles of the 1979 revolution. In comments published in a Persian daily newspaper earlier this month, he said the death edict imposed by Iran's revolutionary leader the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 on author Salman Rushdie for blaspheming Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses" is still in force and should be carried out.

Reza Zavarei

Zavarei, 59, is a lawyer and deputy head of the judiciary who has also been in charge of the real estate and documents registration organization since 1989.

Prosecutor of the Islamic Revolution Court in Tehran and deputy interior minister after the 1979 revolution, he was a Tehran deputy in the Majlis (parliament) for two terms. Like the other candidates he is a Shiite Muslim but he is the only one of the four who is not a cleric.

Prior to the revolution he was arrested and imprisoned twice for political activities. Newspapers have noted he belongs to the same political faction as Nateq-Nouri and so could split the conservative vote, allowing Khatami to win without a run-off. Or he could take votes both from Khatami and Reyshahri and give them to Nateq-Nouri in a second round.

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