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Iran presidential candidate Jalili is fiercely loyal to Khamenei

3 min

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.

A poster of Iranian presidential candidate Saeed Jalili is seen on a street in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

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.

UNCOMPROMISING STANCE

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.

During the current election campaign, Jalili was heavily criticised in debates on state TV by other candidates for his uncompromising nuclear stance and his opposition to Iran signing up to two conventions on financial crime recommended by the Financial Action Taskforce, an international crime watchdog.

Some hardliners, like Jalili, argue that the acceptance of the Convention on Combating the Financing of Terrorism and the Convention on Combating Transnational Organized Crime could hamper Iran's support for its paramilitary proxies across the region, including Lebanon's Hezbollah.

PRODUCT OF THE REVOLUTION

Jalili has been trying for the presidency for years. He finished third in the 2013 contest, and stood again in 2021 but eventually withdrew to support Raisi.

Born in the holy Muslim Shi'ite city of Mashhad in 1965, Jalili lost his right leg in the 1980s in fighting during the Iran-Iraq war and joined the Foreign Ministry in 1989. Despite his hardline views, he is outwardly soft-spoken.

He gained a doctorate in political science at Imam Sadiq University, a training ground for Iranian leaders, where he wrote a study entitled "Foreign policy of (the) Prophet of Islam", according to a biography that was for a time posted on the Foreign Ministry website for a time.

For four years from 2001, he worked at Khamenei's office.

When hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, he chose Jalili to be his adviser, and within months made him deputy foreign minister.

Jalili was appointed in 2007 as the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, a post that automatically made him chief nuclear negotiator.

By Parisa Hafezi

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