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Iran’s Predictable Election

Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi is all but assured victory as hard-liners close ranks around their candidate.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi casts his ballot.
Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi casts his ballot for president in Tehran on June 18. ATTA KENARE/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran holds its presidential election, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza resume, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says the country is ready for “dialogue and confrontation” with the United States.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran holds its presidential election, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza resume, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says the country is ready for “dialogue and confrontation” with the United States.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Iran’s Predictable Election

There will be a presidential election in Iran today, but it won’t be a contest. Four candidates, already vetted for their ideological purity by the country’s Guardian Council, vie for the presidency today, with one—Ebrahim Raisi, the head of the judiciary—widely tipped to win.

Raisi, 60, comes to the job with an unimpeachable pedigree within Iran’s hierarchy. He has served as both attorney general and chief justice and earned a spot on U.S. and EU sanctions lists for his role in the sentencing of more than a thousand dissidents to death in 1988.

Iran dealings. That negotiations in Vienna on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and lifting U.S. sanctions have not yet concluded may create an awkward start to the likely Raisi presidency. As Alex Vatanka, the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, wrote in Foreign Policy yesterday, a deal before election day would have allowed Raisi to blame any ill outcomes on his soon-to-be predecessor, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran’s new president won’t take office until August, leaving time for political cover should a deal fail to live up to Tehran’s expectations.

The façade falls. Iran’s unique political system usually does not leave much room for dissent, but this election appears to go even further to eliminate the risk of ideological diversity. “This year’s election is the hard-liners’ most transparent attempt in Iran’s modern history to not just disqualify their rivals but remove their line of thinking entirely from Iran’s political landscape,” Sina Toossi, a senior research analyst for the National Iranian American Council, wrote in Foreign Policy in May. Iran’s hard-liners, Toossi wrote, feeling vindicated by the Trump presidency, are now seeking to consolidate total power.

Who’d want to be Iran’s president? As Jay Mens, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Forum, pointed out in Foreign Policy, the Iranian presidency has been something of a poisoned chalice for all but one of its seven office holders—the glaring exception being current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That string of bad luck could be about to change with the elevation of Raisi, who many see as the successor to the 82-year-old leader. Unlike his predecessors, the presidency may be Raisi’s audition for higher office. “Rather than competing with Khamenei, he will be the perfect accomplice to Khamenei’s plan to make the Islamic Republic of Iran more ‘Islamic’ and less of a ‘republic,’” Mens writes.


What We’re Following Today

Gaza airstrikes. Israel bombed Gaza late Thursday night, the second time it has struck the territory since agreeing to a cease-fire with Hamas following an 11-day conflict in May. The strikes came in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza, itself a reaction to an Israeli far-right march through Jerusalem’s Old City deemed provocative by Palestinian groups. The Israeli military said it had struck “military compounds and a rocket launch site” and was ready for a “variety of scenarios, including a resumption of hostilities.”

DUP turmoil. Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is in search of new leadership after party chief Edwin Poots resigned on Thursday, just three weeks into the job. Poots stepped down from his post after lawmakers in the party rejected his choice to lead the region’s power-sharing executive. The turmoil comes at an awkward time for Northern Ireland as disagreements over the implementation of a U.K.-EU Brexit agreement has fueled street violence and led U.S. President Joe Biden to issue the British government a rare reprimand.

North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first direct comments on the Biden administration at a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers Partys central committee on Thursday, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. Kim “stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation,” with the United States, “especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development,” KCNA stated. The comments come as U.S. North Korea envoy Sung Kim heads to Seoul on Saturday for three-way talks with Japanese and South Korean officials.


Keep an Eye On

French regional elections. France votes on Sunday in nationwide regional elections that will be watched closely for indications of support for the far-right party of politician Marine Le Pen ahead of next year’s presidential contest. Voters return for a second round on June 27.

Armenia votes. Armenians go to the polls on Sunday in early elections called by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in an attempt to quell months of unrest over his decision to accept a cease-fire deal with Azerbaijan, which ceded Armenian territory. It’s expected to be a tense election: A poll taken last week showed Pashinyan’s party neck and neck with a rival bloc led by former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan. In a March poll, more than 40 percent of those surveyed said they would not vote.

A Biden-Xi summit? The White House is considering talks between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Thursday. “It could be a phone call. It could be a meeting on the margins of another international summit. It could be something else,” Sullivan said. Italy hosts the G-20 summit in October, which could serve as a venue for discussion.


Odds and Ends

A Chinese academic has been suspended by his university after appearing to advocate for polygamy on his private social media account in a case that has divided public opinion. Bao Yinan of the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai posted Chinese authorities “should give university professors special treatment, for example allowing them to have multiple spouses and provide them permanent subsidies.” Bao later deleted the post, an action he said was due to pressure from the university.

Bao is just the latest academic this month to advocate for unorthodox relationship arrangements. In his regular Weibo column, Yew-Kwang Ng, an economics professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, made the case for polyandry—or multiple men sharing the same wife—as a solution to China’s lopsided male to female population ratio.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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