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Iran’s June 2021 presidential election

25 June 2021 Jack A. Kennedy Kevjn Lim

With more than 90% of ballots counted in Iran's 18 June presidential election (at the time of writing on 21 June), Ebrahim Raisi was announced by Iran's interior ministry to have won with 62% of the vote.

Raisi's win is a victory for Iran's conservative, anti-reformist factions and will probably prefigure an even more confrontational foreign policy much closer to the Supreme Leader's preferences.

Even if the P5+1 and Iran reinstate the nuclear agreement before the presidential transition in early August - a time frame that IHS Markit assesses is unlikely - any extensions proposed to it and follow-up negotiations on non-nuclear issues with the Biden administration would probably stall. Rather than decrease missile development and support for regional militias, Raisi is likely to maintain or intensify these at current levels, raising escalation and armed conflict risks with the US and Israel in particular, but not empowering the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) to carry out attacks that would be easily attributable to direct Iranian involvement. Conversely, even if the Rouhani government and the US fail to reach an agreement before the transition, Raisi is unlikely to reject the progress made in talks; he supports reinstating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as an international agreement backed by the Supreme Leader. However, he would be likely to demand harder concessions, such as Iran retaining the use of its advanced centrifuges.

Despite record-low voter turnout, protests against the handling of the election are unlikely as the sole remaining non-conservative candidate was ultimately allowed to run.

Voter turnout was 48.4%, the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic (turnout was 73.3% in 2017 and 72.9% in 2013). Iranian media announced the results in percentage points rather than in absolute numbers, probably to obscure the low turnout figures, but approximately 14% of voters spoiled their ballots, more than the votes given to the losing candidates. Abdolnaser Hemmati, the former central bank head, registered in third place with 8.38% of the vote, and his relatively poor performance was in part reportedly the result of his role in the stagnant Iranian economy - inflation is currently 50%. If no progress is made with the JCPOA negotiations within the first months of the presidency and the current restrictions on the Iranian economy remain in place, the likelihood of limited protests would increase. With permitted channels to voice discontent now increasingly restricted, anti-establishment protests would also likely increase in intensity and frequency, including potentially by supporters of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (previously an ultranationalist hardliner), whose candidacy was recently disqualified for the second time.

Raisi's win indicates policy stability should a Supreme Leader succession occur during his term(s) over the next 4-8 years.

Raisi, who is 60 and who came in second after outgoing president Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 election, has emerged as the likeliest successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 82. Besides heading the judiciary, a key revolutionary institution, Raisi is deputy to Ahmad Jannati, chair of the Assembly of Experts (AoE), which supervises and chooses the next Supreme Leader and was elected into the position by the AoE's members in 2019. If, as is likely, Raisi is president during Khamenei's passing/incapacitation, a smooth succession would be likely; the president, judiciary chief, and a Guardian Council cleric are to jointly discharge the Supreme Leader's duties in the interim, and a non-hardline president would likely pose obstacles to the other two positions routinely controlled by hardliners.

Posted 25 June 2021 by Jack A. Kennedy, Associate Director and Head of Desk, Country Risk – Middle East and North Africa, S&P Global Market Intelligence and

Kevjn Lim, Principal Research Analyst, Middle East and North Africa, Country Risk, S&P Global Market Intelligence


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