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Is Jalili The Iranian Establishment's Candidate Of Choice?

Iranian presidential candidate and top nuclear negotiator Said Jalili
Said Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, is the youngest and most conservative of the six candidates who will contest the June 14 presidential election. He has also been described by some observers as the Iranian establishment's preferred man for the job, a nod that would go far to secure his victory.

Indeed, there are solid arguments to support that perception.

The 47-year-old Jalili is in charge of Iran’s most-sensitive foreign policy issue, the nuclear program, which analysts believe is a sign of the deep trust that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has for him.

He is said to be a true Khamenei loyalist and his comments closely echo those of the Iranian leader.

This week, the popular "Asr-e Iran" website accused Iranian state television, which is under the direct control of Khamenei’s allies, of attempting to "impose" Jalili and of trying to give the impression that Jalili has more popular support than his rivals.

However, as expected, the supreme leader hasn’t publicly expressed support for any of the candidates. Some say that while Jalili is a solid contender to gain the establishment's backing, they aren't convinced yet. They say the perception that he is already the chosen one appears to have been inflated by his campaign.

According to Malaysia-based Iranian journalist Pouyan Fakhrayi, being the establishment's preferred candidate, or at least promoting that perception, has distinct advantages.

"There are lots of assigned votes that are given in the election to the candidate that Khamenei supports," he says. "The perception that Jalili is the one has been spread by those close to him, including people such as Basij Commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi and the Imam Sadegh University. It's in their interest to make those Iranians who support the establishment believe that Jalili is Khamenei's candidate in order to win their votes, too."

Poisoned Chalice?

However, Europe-based political activist Fereidoun Ahmadi suggests that the results of cultivating this perception are not so simple. He told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that whoever is thought to be Khamenei's pick may become the public's least-favored choice.

"Those forces that are guided by the establishment would vote for whomever they think is Khamenei’s preferred candidate," he says. "But there is a difference with the majority of people. I think most people would [have] a negative view of the candidate they think is viewed positively by [Khamenei]. They would do the opposite."

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The website Alef, which is thought to be associated with conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli, recently wrote that Jalili’s campaign is "without a doubt" trying to demonstrate that he has a "solid" relationship with the Iranian leader.

"Jalili’s insistence on gluing himself to Khamenei is the continuation of the line of foreign media to portray him as the candidate of the supreme leader and the establishment," Alef wrote.

The website also criticized Jalili's campaign film, in which it said Jalili was described as the candidate with the views closest to Khamenei's.

A video making the rounds online in recent days shows Jalili responding positively when asked by a hard-line female student to swear on the Koran that he is ready to give his life for the supreme leader.

Behnam Gholipour, the editor in chief of the website Digarban, which covers Iran's hard-line media, says that for individuals such as Jalili, Khamenei's support is a badge of honor.

"They don't really care about people's votes. They think God will help them," he told RFE/RL.

Gholipour added that Jalili appears to have substantial support among young Basij members and other hard-line groups.

"However, I have not seen blatant support for him from Khamenei’s close circles or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC)," he said.

On June 11, the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is said to be close to the IRGC, published the results of an opinion poll which it claimed had been conducted by a "credible" agency.

According to the poll, there will be a runoff in which Jalili and Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, will face each other.

Qalibaf, a former IRGC commander, is believed to have more popular support than Jalili.

Gholipour predicts that IRGC-members' votes will be split between Qalibaf and Jalili.

Another candidate that could get Khamenei's vote, he believes, is former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati.

"Velayati is very close to Khamenei and he is known as 'Mr. Permission,' meaning that he doesn’t take a step without Khamenei’s permission," says Gholipour.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.