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Iran's president died in a helicopter crash. Who will replace him?

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

June 28, Iranians will vote for the successor of the late President Ebrahim Raisi, who died along with the country's foreign minister in a helicopter crash last month. Scores of candidates, including a woman registered to run, but Iran's unelected Guardian Council has the final say on the ballot. And today, state TV is reporting that six candidates have been approved to run. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story from Istanbul. Hi Peter.

PETER KENYON, HOST:

Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK. Tell us about the candidates. Who are they?

KENYON: Well, this list approved quite quickly by the Guardian Council, includes Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. He's speaker of the Parliament. He's got strong military credentials. He has run multiple times before without success. There's also 58-year-old Saeed Jalili. He's Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator. He started to run in 2021, and then he pulled out and threw his support behind Raisi. Also on this list is the conservative Tehran mayor, Alireza Zakani.

In addition, in something of a surprise, the list includes one reformist lawmaker, Masoud Pezeshkian. There's also a hard-liner named Mostafa Pourmohammadi - he's a former interior minister - and conservative politician Amirhossein Ghazizadeh. As expected, a woman who had tried to make the list did not. The Guardian Council has never approved a female candidate. Some well-known names, including former Parliament speaker Ali Larijani and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also didn't make the list, according to this report.

RASCOE: And what about the voters? How are they feeling about the race?

KENYON: Well, the mood of the voters has been variously described as disengaged, disillusioned, nothing very positive. Forty-year-old Messam (ph) from the northern city of Rasht - he agreed to talk if his family name is withheld - he's worried about official retribution for speaking to the foreign media. Now, Messam says, he would describe the election as a circus, and no one he knows is excited about their possible choices. Here's a bit of what he said.

MESSAM: (Through interpreter) Most people who I'm in touch with see the future of Iran as quite dark and uncertain. There is no light on the horizon. Nearly all skilled workers and educated people have some kind of immigration plan. Whoever has the resources has already left.

KENYON: Now, he also said, the way the government is acting, more protests and demonstrations are likely to be seen, and he expects another government crackdown, possibly even harsher than before.

RASCOE: All this relates to who holds the most power in Iran, which is not the president or the Guardian Council, but the Supreme Leader, right?

KENYON: Yes. And that is a very big factor because the late President Ebrahim Raisi was considered a leading candidate to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader someday. Some have suggested that Khamenei's son Mojtaba might be a choice for that role. That also is running into some objections, though. There's a negative view in general in Iran about the idea of hereditary rule. In any event, there will be a fresh debate about who might succeed Khamenei after these elections, certainly. But whoever wins will face a very difficult issue - big issues of corruption and economic inequality. Iran has long been ranked among the more troublesome countries when it comes to corruption. And then there's regional tensions, including Iran's first ever direct attack against Israel. It was largely ineffective. Both countries have said they don't want to escalate, but in a volatile region, that could change on short notice.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.