No incumbent has lost a presidential election in post-Revolution Iran. But 2009's challengers are directing unusually intense criticism at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on matters of foreign policy, domestic economic health, and management of the nuclear file. This has triggered enormous interest in the West about the potential for a new presidential administration to engage with Washington on a range of issues. Yet questions remain about the significance of the Iranian office of president. While the Iranian president has considerable latitude in domestic matters, and is the most visible member of Iran's inner circle on the world stage, his power remains secondary to the Supreme Leader. A number of analysts and Iranians, particularly those from urban areas who support opposition candidates seen as reformers, believe this arrangement undermines the electoral process. U.S. officials regularly dismiss Iran's elections as unfair. Some experts suggest that despite the president's lack of absolute authority in Iran, the political leaning of the office holder can shape, albeit subtly, the direction of regime policies.
A Presidential Paradox
Officially the highest elected office in the Islamic Republic of Iran's bureaucracy, the president remains subordinate to the Supreme Leader, who serves as the final arbiter on foreign policy, media, nuclear-related decisions, and military and national security. The president, meanwhile, carries out the "functions of the executive" as outlined in Iran's constitution, duties that range from appointing ambassadors and cabinet ministers to planning and executing the national budget. Article 113 of the constitution stipulates that executive power is subservient to "the office of Leadership." Ali Alfoneh, a visiting research fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, argues (PDF) this arrangement fosters the myth that Iran's electorate has a role in the preserving Iranian sovereignty. "This is false," he says. Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran...