The Iranian people will be the losers in Friday’s elections, no matter which candidate wins, because their votes are not important, according to a senior researcher at a US research institute.

The outcome of the presidential election campaign is in many ways a matter of course, said Behnam Ben Taleblu from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Iran really only has one important voter … and that is the supreme leader,” he said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“So you could say which of the candidates you named wins, the Iranian people will certainly lose,” he told CNBC’s Capital Connection on Friday.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment at the request of CNBC.

Ben Taleblu referred to anti-government protests in recent years, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of their leaders. They were “not looking for reforms as in previous years – but in reality for revolution,” he said.

“Agent of stasis”

The front runner in the presidential race, Ebrahim Raisi, is “definitely an agent of stasis, not change,” said Ben Taleblu.

Political analysts have revealed hardline judge Raisi’s name as a possible future replacement for Khamenei, he said. Raisi, if elected, would be the first recent incumbent Iranian president to be sanctioned by Washington before taking office – the sentences would be imposed on him for his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners.

“It is likely that the Islamic Republic will maintain its aggression abroad and repression at home with Raisi in the lead,” said Ben Taleblu.

Elections for the Iranian elections opened at 7 a.m. local time on Friday, with political experts finding widespread apathy across the country.

Iranian voters cast their ballots in Iran’s 13th presidential election in Tehran, Iran on June 18, 2021 at the Hosseiniyeh Ershad Mosque in Rey city.

Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Instead of looking to see who wins the elections, Ben Taleblu said future US policy should be guided by voter turnout, which is expected to be very low.

“It’s not about who is at the head of the Islamic Republic / … It’s about what the Iranian people are signaling to their state,” he said. “The gap between state and society could not have widened in recent years.”

Voter turnout is a way of knowing whether the Iranian people support their leaders, and that should “feed into US policy,” he said.

Nuclear deal

Ben Taleblu also said there could be a return to the 2015 nuclear deal ahead of the new president’s inauguration.

“It’s very important to note that even some of the toughest of the hardline candidates want to keep talking,” he said.

“Even though they are beating up the (current) Rouhani government and the nuclear deal, they would want to because ultimately … the Iranian economy is suffering,” he said.

It is “entirely possible” that the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan could be inserted during the “lame duck” of the Hassan Rouhani government, he said.