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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

Presidential Candidates

The candidates certified by the Guardian Council for the 2009 Iranian presidential election are:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


In his successful 2005 presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad took a populist approach, with emphasis on his own simple life. He is a self-described “principlist”, that is, one whose politics are based on Islamic and revolutionary principles. He is known for promising to “put the petroleum income on people’s tables,” referring to distribution of Iran’s oil profits among the poor. Since 2008, he has pushed to remove subsidies from the state budget, which he believes have bloated the system, in exchange for cash distributions to the public.

Ahmadinejad has been the only presidential candidate to characterize relations with the United States and the United Nations as being one-sided and against Muslims. He has defended Iran’s nuclear program and has accused the West of trying to limit Iran’s industrial and technological developments. He supports fighting terrorism in order to improve foreign relations and has called for greater ties with Iran's neighbors by ending visa requirements between states in the region.

He has been known to crack down against women’s attire and activity, homosexuals and minority religious sects. Freedom of expression has been limited in order to further national security.

Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a senior cleric from Qom, is Ahmadinejad’s ideological mentor and spiritual guide.


  • Followers of Imam Line and Leadership Front (FILLF) | April 24, 2009

  • Society of Benefactors of the Islamic Revolution | April 24, 2009

  • Followers of Islamic Revolution Society | April 25, 2009

  • Islamic Coalition Party (member of FILLF) | April 26, 2009

  • Islamic Society of Workers | April 26, 2009

  • Islamic Revolution Caucus | April 26, 2009

  • Islamic Society of Engineers | Expected

  • 200 of 290 members of the Iranian parliament

Mehdi Karroubi


Karroubi is a critic of the Guardian Council but supports the Supreme Leader. He calls himself a follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as he was an advisor to Khomeini and a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, before he resigned in the belief that non-elected conservative factions were interfering in society. Karroubi considers himself a pragmatic reformist. In his first term as speaker of parliament, he was among the maktabi or “radical” faction of the majlis who contested the policies of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, such as foreign investment and market reforms. Karroubi sought to promote mass political participation and maintain state control of the economy.

Karroubi differs from Ahmadinejad over almost all domestic issues, especially the management of the economy and the nuclear issue. He embraces all classes within society – students, workers, professionals and the clergy – while operating within the general framework of the constitution of the Iranian Republic. He has stated that he believes that many articles of the constitution pertaining to rights of the people have not been implemented. Karroubi has also stated that he will appoint women as ministers and presidential aides if he wins the June presidential election – a move that would break the barrier women have faced in holding ministerial posts.

During his campaign for the 2005 presidential elections, Karroubi vowed to pay 500,000 rials ($50 dollars) monthly to every Iranian above 18. Since his campaign was announced for the 2009 election, Karroubi has said he will offer shares in Iran’s state oil and gas industry to the public.

Karroubi’s campaign slogan is “Change,” hoping to “bring about change in Iran’s Executive Body.”


  • National Trust (Etemad-e Melli)
    (Karroubi is the chairman of Etemad-e Melli)

Mir-Hossein Mousavi


Mousavi has vowed to follow former president Mohammad Khatami’s path not only to pursue democratic reforms, but also to stay true to the country’s Islamic values and the revolution. Mousavi, a former conservative, does not believe in Western-style economic and political reforms. However, he does believe in press and individual freedoms and intends to establish a special dialogue to increase social cohesion. Mousavi believes the society’s mindset must be transformed in order to increase women’s participation in social life. While praising Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s technological and nuclear advancements, he criticizes the current president’s planning and budgeting. He further believes Iran needs to improve human resources and management.

He is widely lauded by Iranians for his management of the economy as prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war. Many believe he can attract principlists and reformers.


  • Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) | April 10, 2009

  • Militant Clerics Society | April 11, 2009

  • Association of Combatant Clerics | April 12, 2009

  • Solidarity (Hambastegi) | April 15, 2009

  • Executives of Construction | April 17, 2009

  • Islamic Iran Participation Party | April 18, 2009

  • Coordination Council of the Reformist Party | April 18, 2009

Mohsen Rezai

Moderate Conservative

Rezai leads a coalition of pragmatic conservatives, along with Tehran mayor Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to the Supreme Leader.  He has been a clear critic of Ahmadinejad, stating that the current president has brought Iran into the “path of destruction.” 

His campaign has focused on seven core issues he considers “major threats” to Iran, including unemployment, inflation, poverty, social ills such as drug use, the loss of happiness and peace in society, the weakening of moral values in politics and government, and divisions within the government, ethnic groups and between Shi’a and Sunnis.

He has stated his concern over polarized elections and a self-centered executive branch.  His campaign includes the pledge to create an effective coalition government of conservatives and reformists as a major aspect of his reform plan.

Rezai was the chief commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for 16 years and is currently the secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council.  He previously ran for president in 2005, but withdrew his candidacy two days prior to the election.


  • Development and Justice Party of Islamic Iran | April 15, 2009

  • The Front of Unity of Islamic Iran | April 27, 2009

Updated on May 21, 2009