Recently, Mohammad Atrianfar, one of the leading reformist thinkers in Iran mused that reformists could support the candidacy of Majles speaker Ali Larijani in the 2021 presidential election. Such a statement would have been unthinkable a few months ago, and the fact that such alliances are being considered is an indication of how far domestic politics have shifted.
For most of his political life, Larijani has been affiliated with mainstream conservatives, but in recent years he has gradually aligned himself with the moderate faction around President Hassan Rohani, and it is now clear that he has ambitions to run for president in 2021.
Though he may be a good compromise candidate, it is evident that some more extreme hardliners won’t support him. He will try to compensate by appealing to reformist segments of politics and society.
To do so, he will need a closer relationship with Rohani. So far, their cooperation has been very pragmatic. Rohani needed Larijani’s support to stop the wave of impeachments and parliamentary pressures on his government, and Larijani needs Rohani to help him gradually position himself as a future presidential candidate.
The two politicians seem to have agreed to build a centrist coalition to prevent the emergence of a populist president in 2021. Since Larijani and Rohani have both been attacked by the hardliners who have coalesced around former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is conceivable that they will remain close until the 2021 election.
Similar to Rohani himself, the fact that Larijani is a former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council means that he has formed working relationships with many key stakeholders, including the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Also, 12 years in the Majles speakership has given him unparalleled experience in dealing with an array of political figures.
Larijani will be one of the most significant contenders for president in 2021, and he will use the remainder of his term as Majles speaker to establish working relations with some of Iran’s most important international partners.