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Iran’s Presidential Candidates: Who Are They?

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A reformist and an ultraconservative will square off in a runoff election Friday as neither candidate garnered the majority of votes required to win the presidency in a first round plagued by record low voter turnout and dissatisfaction with the political establishment.

The July 5 election, being held a year early because of the death of former President Ebrahim Raisi in a May helicopter crash, will decide whether the reform candidate, Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, or the hard-liner Saeed Jalili, will assume the presidency of a country beleaguered by a crippled economy, internal protests and foreign policy challenges.

In the first round, 60 percent of eligible voters either did not show up at the polls or cast a blank vote, in protest of the ruling establishment, which they view as inefficient and incapable of solving Iran’s domestic and international problems.

Dr. Pezeshkian received over 10.4 million votes (42.4 percent) of the approximately 24 million cast, and Saeed Jalili received 9.47 million (38.6 percent).

While Dr. Pezeshkian received the most votes in the first round, it’s unclear who will emerge on top on Friday. The third-place candidate, Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, who received 13.8 percent of first-round votes, endorsed Mr. Jalili, but earlier polling showed that many of Mr. Ghalibaf’s supporters would not support Mr. Jalili.

Here is what to know about Dr. Pezeshkian and Mr. Jalili:

Dr. Pezeshkian is a cardiac surgeon and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who served in Parliament and as Iran’s health minister.

Reformist candidates were largely disqualified from the 2021 presidential election and from the parliamentary election held in March. Experts say Dr. Pezeshkian was likely allowed to run by the Guardian Council, the governing body that decides which candidates can compete, to increase voter turnout after many Iranians boycotted March’s parliamentary elections. The government sees high voter turnout as crucial to the election’s perceived legitimacy.

Dr. Pezeshkian, an Azeri, one of Iran’s ethnic minorities, was endorsed by former President Mohammad Khatami. The candidate has expressed openness to nuclear negotiations with the West, framing the debate as an economic issue. U.S.-led sanctions over Iran’s ballistic and nuclear missile program are currently crippling the country’s economy.

Dr. Pezeshkian has a history of openly criticizing the government and decried the violent enforcement of mandatory hijab laws after the protests over the 2022 death of an Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, engulfed the country.

Mr. Jalili is an ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator nicknamed “the living martyr” after he lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. He represents the country’s most hard-line ideological views when it comes to domestic and foreign policy.

Mr. Jalili, who is close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he believes that Iran does not need to negotiate with the United States for economic success.

His position on the issue presents a “totally unrealistic” assessment of Iran’s economic capabilities to the public, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran expert and Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“He’s dead opposed not only to any nuclear deal, but to any sort of opening in the West,” Mr. Boroujerdi said.

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