Iran's run-off election will decide whether to have a president of peace or a president of war.

01.07.24 23:13

The unexpected death of President Ebrahim Raisi of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the results of the first round of early presidential elections in that country have brought the entire Middle East region, and possibly the South Caucasus, to a "fork in the road".  At this "fork in the road" there are in fact two paths:


1. The end of Iran's geopolitical isolation, its withdrawal from the ranks of "world pariahs", the improvement of Iran's relations with Western countries and its active involvement in global transit projects together with its Turkic neighbours.


2. The course of confrontation between Iran and the West and Israel and the incitement of wars with Iran's participation not only in the Middle East but also in the South Caucasus.


In principle, some steps in the first direction were taken by the late President Ebrahim Raisi. He "dodged" the "great war" with Israel in every possible way, and in the Caucasus policy he made an apparent rapprochement with Azerbaijan, which caused extreme discontent among the militant radicals of the IRGC. It is difficult to say to what extent the IRGC was involved in the death of Ebrahim Raisi, but what is certain is that the IRGC is supporting Said Jalili of the 'War Party', who came second in the early presidential elections and made it to the second round.  And Said Jalili is far more anti-Western than Raisi.


Saeed Jalili also argues that Iran should not negotiate the renewal of the Iran nuclear deal with the US and Western European countries. Masoud Pezeshkian, who came first in the first round of voting, is in favour of renewing the nuclear deal, saying that Iran needs to start a dialogue with Western countries and build relations between Tehran and Washington.


At the same time, certain geopolitical forces are ready to start a "big war" immediately after Saeed Jalili's victory, if there is one. Moreover, some Iranian diplomats are escalating the situation without waiting for Jalili's victory. For example, Iran's mission to the UN has threatened that Iran will start a "war of annihilation" if Israel attacks Lebanon. And these threats are taken seriously by many. It is no coincidence that the authorities of Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, North Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and Australia have called on their citizens to leave Lebanon, realistically expecting the country to become the scene of an Israeli-Iranian military confrontation.


In the current presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is quite realistic that the candidate of the "Peace and Reform Party" - the ethnic Azerbaijani Masoud Pezeshkian - will win. Not only will he probably do everything to prevent Iran from being dragged into a war in the Middle East, but he will also finally implement all the plans of the Armenian revanchists for a new war in the South Caucasus with Iran's participation. It is not by chance that many people in Yerevan believe that the victory of Masoud Pezeshkian in the presidential elections in Iran is highly undesirable for Armenia (or, more precisely, for the Armenian revanchists). This is the opinion of Iranian academic Zhanna Vardanyan: "In the past, the reformist representative and ethnic Azerbaijani has made a number of anti-Armenian statements, including in connection with the Karabakh conflict. Undoubtedly, the president does not conduct Iran's foreign policy alone; there is a whole system of decision-making, and we should not forget the factor of the Supreme Leader Khamenei. Nevertheless, local difficulties can arise," Vardanyan said, referring to the "difficulties" of trying to prevent the opening of the Nagorno-Karabakh corridor and fomenting a new revanchist war.


Masoud Pezeshkian won first place in the first round of the presidential election, largely thanks to the votes of ethnic Azerbaijanis, including conservative ones. For example, the Azerbaijani-populated province of Ardabil is characterised by conservative sentiments, and the city of Ardabil itself (from where the Shia Turkic Safavid dynasty began the unification of Azerbaijan and Iran under its rule) is considered a "bastion of conservatism" at the level of Guma and Mashhad, which are considered sacred by Shiite Muslims. However, the results of the vote in the Azerbaijani province of Ardabil show an absolute victory for the reformist Masoud Pezeshkian over all other conservative candidates.


A total of 500,000 Ardabil residents voted in the Iranian presidential election, with 382,600, or 76.5 percent, voting for Pezeshkian. In the provinces of West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan, the percentage of votes cast for Masoud Pezeshkian is even higher. Only 72,800, or 14.6 percent, of Ardabil residents voted for the conservative Said Jalili. Although there are many more conservative voters in Ardabil, Jalili's mother is an Azeri from Ardabil.


So the Azerbaijanis of the Islamic Republic of Iran have "made up their minds". They vote for the candidate who emphasises his Turkish origin and is proud of it: Masoud Pezeshkian. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, this makes Iran's political elite think that if they want to preserve the unity of the country, they will no longer be able to ignore the aspirations of ethnic Azerbaijanis and other Turkic peoples.


However, the votes of the Turkic peoples of the Islamic Republic of Iran are not enough for Masoud Pezeshkian to win. It is important for him to mobilise the youth and supporters of reform in all spheres of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And he has the chance to do so. According to analysts, Pezeshkian's chances of winning the second round will depend on whether the reformists can attract more people to the polls.


It should also be remembered that Masoud Pezeshkian, as a supporter of reform, is in favour of women voluntarily wearing 'legally required' head coverings. This is why Iran was recently rocked by protests following the death of a young girl of Kurdish origin, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested on 13 September for ignoring Iranian laws on women's head coverings. She died in hospital three days after her arrest, sparking massive protests across the country.


Masoud Pezeshkian then criticised the Iranian authorities for their lack of transparency in reporting the circumstances of Mahsa Amini's death, in effect indirectly supporting the protesters. Although the protests have been suppressed, the spirit of protest has not disappeared, nor has the memory of Pezeshkian's stance. All this could give Masoud Pezeshkian additional votes for reform and against hostility with the West.


The second round of elections is due to be held on 5 May 2024. In the meantime, however, given the explosive situation in the Middle East, the same IRGC could "speed up events" by fomenting war in Lebanon in order to "mobilise" a considerable number of militant and conservative voters in Iran in support of Saeed Jalili, who also has a chance of winning. Although this victory could eventually lead the Islamic Republic of Iran and the entire Middle East region to war.


George Kvinitadze

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