Khamenei's speech reflects the great dilemma he is facing at this year's election. On the one hand, Khamenei desires a high voter turnout since he
perceives all elections as the public's renewal of allegiance to himself, and not necessarily the public's endorsement of a specific candidate. On the
other hand, he fears repetition of the unrest, which erupted in the wake of the fraudulent June 9, 2009 presidential election. The regime seeks to prevent
millions of angry Iranians from pouring onto the streets in protest of his despotic rule and mismanagement of an economy that is groaning under the weight
of corruption, mismanagement, and international sanctions.
The regime's formula for the 2013 election is to restrict the public's enthusiasm, but preserve some hope.
Controversial candidates such as former president Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
protégé, were barred from candidacy, and what remained was a choice between regime loyalists. Following the withdrawal of regime loyalists Gholam-Ali
Haddad Adel and Mohammad-Reza Aref from the campaign, Iranian voters can now choose between Hojjat al-Eslam Hassan Rouhani, the sole clerical candidate,
Ali-Akbar Velayati, a pediatrician and longest-serving foreign minister of the Islamic Republic, and four former officers of the Islamic Revolutionary
Guards Corps (IRGC) - Mohsen Rezaei, Saeed Jalili, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, and Mohammad Gharazi.
While similarities between the candidates have dampened public enthusiasm, the choices are a deliberate gambit to buttress the regime. The competition
between Qalibaf and Jalili is designed to mobilize regime supporters, while Rouhani's candidacy is meant to offer the opposition a faint hope of the
government's ability to reform itself.
In another attempt at controlling the campaign, the regime avoided a replay of the confrontational presidential debates of 2009, replacing them with
controlled exchanges of viewpoints between the candidates.
At the first televised debate, the difference between the candidates was symbolic: Qalibaf portrayed himself as a modern IRGC officer by bringing his i-Pad
into the studio. Jalili's language projected traditional piety. Rouhani wielded the temperate rhetoric of former president Mohammad Khatami. Rezaei and
Aref, meanwhile, were the sole candidates who talked about the economy, which is the most important, if not the only, issue for most voters.
The second debate, which revolved around cultural issues, proved even less eventful than the first. However, some real differences surfaced at the third
and final debate. Most of the candidates attacked Jalili, who is also Iran's nuclear negotiator, of having unnecessarily provoked Western sanctions against
Iran. Deflecting those attacks, Jalili accused Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, of having sold out Iran's national interests by suspending uranium
enrichment during the Khatami presidency.