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In recent years, Iran has seen a significant decline in voter turnout, leading to concerns about the legitimacy of the political system. The upcoming presidential election following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi presents a challenge for the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He faces the decision of allowing a more open election with a range of candidates, or continuing to block reformist and moderate challengers. The latter option may result in even lower voter turnout, which would be seen as a rejection of the increasingly authoritarian state. The declining participation in elections reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the regime among the Iranian population.

Iran’s political system is a theocracy in which key decisions are made by the supreme leader and appointed councils, while the president focuses on domestic and economic matters. Recent elections have served as a barometer of public sentiment, with low turnout signaling a disconnect between the clerical establishment and the people. Following the death of President Raisi, Ayatollah Khamenei faces a lack of clear successors, leading to potential infighting within the conservative base. The selection of candidates allowed to run in the election will indicate the path the regime intends to take, with hard-line loyalists likely dominating the field.

Despite the economic challenges and public disillusionment in Iran, there is little indication that the political establishment will change course. The current trajectory suggests a move towards authoritarianism, with minimal space for reformist or moderate voices within the system. The reluctance to widen the political spectrum may be driven by the need to ensure a stable transition when a new supreme leader is chosen, given Ayatollah Khamenei’s advanced age and fragile health. The system’s rigid structure and focus on maintaining elite unity present obstacles to significant reform.

While there is a possibility of surprises within the Iranian political landscape, such as the rise of unexpected candidates like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past, the absence of obvious moderates raises questions about the future direction of the country. Disillusionment among the population following economic hardships and repressive measures taken against dissent may further erode trust in the electoral process. The risk of people losing faith in peaceful avenues for change could lead to heightened tensions and potentially more widespread unrest in the long term. The closed nature of the political system limits the scope for meaningful reform and represents a challenge for those seeking a more inclusive and open society in Iran.

The upcoming presidential election in Iran will be a critical moment for the country’s political future, with implications for both domestic governance and international relations. The choice of candidates and the level of voter participation will offer insights into the evolving dynamics within the regime and the public’s willingness to engage in the political process. The balancing act between maintaining control and responding to popular demands presents a challenge for Ayatollah Khamenei and the ruling elite, who must navigate shifting political forces and growing discontent among the population. The outcome of the election will shape Iran’s trajectory in the coming years and determine the extent to which the regime can adapt to changing circumstances while preserving its core principles.

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