Who is Iran’s New President, Masoud Pezeshkian? A light in the darkness or the destroyer of hope?

Alireza Kia

Summary: What are the results of another reformist victory in Iran’s presidential election? — Editors

At sixty-nine years old, Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian will be Iran’s new president. He won the election on Friday, July 5 against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili in a runoff election to replace former president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash.

Iran’s Interior Ministry said 30 million people voted in an election held without internationally recognized monitors. This represented a turnout of 49.6% — higher than the June 28 first-round vote (around 40 percent) but lower than previous presidential races. Pezeshkian received 16.3 million votes (53.7% of those participating) to Jalili’s 13.5 million in Friday’s election.

Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and politician, represents a pragmatic path; he wants to relax enforcement of the country’s mandatory headscarf law but promised no marked changes in the political status quo.

Pezeshkian does not want to cut Iran off from the global internet, his policy is against war, against sanctions, and against what is called Jalili’s Taliban perspective. The demands mentioned in campaign advertisements and emphasized by Pezeshkian in his statements were: controlling inflation, opening virtual space for business, fighting systematic corruption, restoring the rights of minorities, organizing the economy, protection of women’s rights, lifting the embargo, balanced relationship with other countries, getting off the blacklist of the global FATF (The Financial Action Task Force), and greater use of experts. He also expressed his condolences to the victims of the events of recent years. These demands gained the trust of a wide range of social sectors and from the most important economic, political, and social figures.

In his debate with Jalili, Pezeshkian declared, “We live in a society in which many are begging on the streets,” pointing to 40% inflation and rising poverty rates under the harsh sanctions the U.S. imposed in 2018. He wants to prioritize negotiations for lifting the sanctions. Even though these changes were not radical, they were important for those who voted for Pezeshkian. Also significant in this regard was his endorsement by a previous Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, a key player in the negotiations underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal.

Here are some of the opinions found among Iranians before the first round of the election on June 28.

  1. Opposition to participating in the elections, a view that cannot be reflected in any based in Iran due to political repression.
  2. Left parties abroad, which are almost unanimously against participating in the elections.

The opinions of the opposition inside can be summarized below:

– Some people curse this regime and refuse to vote

– Some say it’s all a show to increase participation and gain legitimacy; Pezeshkian is not going to be elected and therefore we refuse to vote.

– Some say, if Pezeshkian is elected, he can’t do anything and nothing will change, and therefore we refuse to vote.

– Some say that the system has problems inside and outside and they want to create an escape route and an opening by Pezeshkian. Therefore, we refuse to vote.

– Young people say the way to reform is in the streets (meaning street demonstrations and movements), and therefore refuse to vote.

In fact, in my opinion, these boil down to two interpretations or two real opinions:

  1. The regime basically does not want to give up on its unity, with only hardline ultraconservatives in the government. Therefore, the acceptance of one of the reformists in the first round – Masoud Pezeshkian – is only to draw the masses to the polls. But if he wins, the Iranian regime will not allow him to become the president and they will choose one of the fundamentalists. This path seems unlikely because if they wanted such an outcome, they could have rejected the qualifications of Pezeshkian, as they did with all reformists in the 2021 election.
  2. The regime has experienced three years when it first thought that it could implement its goals by unifying the government but instead got the Women, Life, Freedom movement that was able to shake the pillars of this regime. In addition, we have seen the incompetence and thievery that have made the economic conditions of the masses so dire that the regime is no longer able to continue the policies of the past. As a result, after the sudden and unexpected death of President Raisi, their policy is changing and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the people under his command have come to the conclusion that the balance of power must change and the reformists need to have some measure of power alongside the conservative factions. The reason for the approval and acceptance of Pezeshkian by the Guardian Council, which was done with the approval of Khamenei, should be understood in this way. Of course, the change in the regime’s policy and its partial retreat should not be attributed to the reformists, but to the struggles of the masses in the past few years, which have been the main cause of this retreat of the regime.

In Iran, the presidency is the public face of the government but political power is in the hands of the theocracy led by unelected Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In fact, 80 people who stepped forward to run in this year’s election saw their candidacies vetoed by members of the Supreme Leader’s Guardian Council, and only a handful of cherry-picked candidates made it onto the ballot. Among those picked, all except Pezeshkian were conservatives. The delegitimizing effect of not having open candidacies is one of the reasons that over 50 percent of eligible voters boycott the elections, among them the young generation, which is largely against the Islamic regime and who had the highest levels of participation in the Women, Life, Freedom movement.

Pezeshkian entered politics first as a deputy health minister and later as the health minister under the administration of reformist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006. Subsequently, he sat in parliament representing the northern city of Tabriz. He later served as deputy parliament speaker and backed reformist and moderate causes, though analysts often describe him more as an “independent” than allied with any voting bloc. That independent label also has been embraced by Pezeshkian in the campaign.

For example, Pezeshkian the reformist has also paid homage to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, on one occasion wearing its uniform in parliament. He repeatedly criticized the United States and praised the Guards for shooting down an American drone in 2019, saying they “delivered a strong punch in the mouth of the Americans and proved to them that our country will not surrender.”

In 2011, Pezeshkian registered to run for president but withdrew his candidacy. In 2021, he found himself and other prominent candidates barred from running by authorities, allowing an easy win for the conservative Raisi.

In the 2024 campaign, Pezeshkian’s advocates have sought to contrast him with the “Taliban” like policies of Jalili. His campaign slogan is “For Iran,” possibly a subtle reference to the popular song by the Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour, called “Baraye,” or “For” in English. This song became the anthem of the 2022 Women, Life, Freedom uprising, earning Hajipour more than three years in prison.

Pezeshkian has acknowledged the challenge ahead of him, particularly after the low turnout of the first round of voting. As Pezeshkian stated during his final televised debate with Jalili, “With all the noisy arguments between me and him, only 40% (of eligible voters) voted, Sixty percent don’t accept us. So, people have issues with us.”

We might say that the first round was a referendum on the Islamic Republic’s overall popularity, but the second round was one on dogmatic versus pragmatic governing approaches. The question is why in the second round did some people show up for Pezeshkian? One reason is the widespread feeling that if Jalili got more votes, he would create a lot of destruction.

What kind of new conditions will arise with the return of a reformist to the presidency is another thing that cannot be predicted. I am hoping that this can be an opening for the masses to organize themselves for the future battle. I don’t believe that most of the participants in today’s elections have illusions about the regime. Rather the sanctions have created huge problems not so much for the dominant classes as for the masses who were seeking to change economic conditions, or at least were hoping for that. Marxist social analysis is not a mathematical science. Mathematical science can have definite and fixed answers, but our type of answer is fluid because it is related to the fluidity of human thinking.

Those participating in the vote want to move forward with hope. The reformist current has only taken one step forward, that’s all and nothing more, but this could be positive since it could give some hope to those who voted. Those people want to see changes in real conditions and not mere wishes. I am not against such hope because it is the opposite of despair. Of course, there is a difference between hope and illusion, but don’t think today’s Iranian people are delusional. Hope moves in relation to the facts but illusions arise in the mentality of people who want the conditions to be answered only with the mentality. Instead, hope comes from real conditions and attempts at change.

The future of Iran is still murky and unclear. After the Women, Life, Freedom movement was unable to bring down this regime, we cannot blame those who are hoping for reform, while at the same time, we cannot underestimate those young generations who have no hope of living in this regime. Even though Mr. Pezeshkian might not be able to do anything, there will be “two voices” in the country and this will lead to political growth and not a single voice like that of the reactionary former Hojjatiye Association and the current stability front led by Jalili and his friends.


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