Iran presidential candidate Jalili is fiercely loyal to Khamenei

DUBAI – Saeed Jalili, a zealous ideologue loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, plans to resolve the country’s social, political and economic ills by adhering rigidly to the hardline ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution if he wins the country’s presidential election.

Jalili was narrowly beaten in Friday’s first round vote by moderate Massoud Pezeshkian but the two men will now face a run-off election on July 5, since Pezeshkian did not secure the majority of 50% plus one vote of ballots cast needed to win outright.

Jalili, a former diplomat, describes himself as a pious believer in “velayat-e faqih”, or rule by supreme jurisprudence, the system of Islamic government that provides the basis for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s paramount position.

His staunch defence of the 45-year-old Islamic revolution appears designed to appeal to hardline, religiously-devout lower-income voters but offered little to young and urban Iranians frustrated by curbs on political and social freedoms.

Once Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Jalili, 58, was one of four candidates in the election for a successor to Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in May.

He is currently a member of a body that mediates in disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, a body that screens election candidates for their political and Islamic qualifications.

A staunch anti-Westerner, Jalili’s advance to the second round signals the possibility of an even more antagonistic turn in the Islamic Republic’s foreign and domestic policy, analysts said.

Foreign and nuclear policy are the domain of Khamenei, who wields supreme command of the armed forces, has the power to declare war and appoints senior figures including armed forces commanders, judicial heads and the head of the state media.

However, the president can influence the tone of foreign and domestic policy.

Insiders and analysts say Khamenei, 85, seeks a strongly loyal president to run the government day-to-day and to be a trusted ally who can ensure stability, amid manoeuvring over the eventual succession to his own position.

Jalili is an opponent of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact with major powers that was negotiated on the Iranian side by a group of pragmatic officials open to detente with the West.

Then-President Donald Trump reneged on the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. With the possible return of Trump to the White House after November’s U.S. presidential election and Jalili’s possible election win, the deal’s resurgence seems improbable.

Before the nuclear pact, Jalili served as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator for five years from 2007, a period in which Tehran took a confrontational and uncompromising approach to discussions with global powers about its uranium enrichment programme.

In those years, three U.N. Security Council resolutions were imposed on Iran, and several attempts to resolve the dispute failed.

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