The Iranian people will be the losers in this election no matter which candidate wins because their votes are not important, according to a senior fellow at a U.S.-based research institute.

In many ways, the outcome of the presidential race after Friday’s vote is a foregone conclusion, said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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

“So you could say whoever wins, of the candidates that you mentioned … the Iranian people will certainly lose,” he told ‘s “Capital Connection” on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Iran Foreign Ministry wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by .

Ben Taleblu pointed to anti-government protests in recent years, where demonstrators called for their leaders to resign. They were “not seeking reform, as in years past — but seeking, really, revolution,” he said.

‘Agent of stasis’

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

Political analysts have been floating hardline judge Raisi’s name as a potential replacement for Khamenei in the future, he said. Raisi, if elected, would be the first serving Iranian president in recent memory to be sanctioned by Washington before entering office — the penalties being placed on him due to his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.

“It’s likely that you’re going to see the Islamic Republic retain its aggression abroad, and repression at home with Raisi at the helm,” he said.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time on Friday for the Iranian elections, with political pundits noting widespread apathy across the country.

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

Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Instead of looking at who wins the election, Ben Taleblu said future U.S. policy should be based on voter turnout, which is expected to be very low.

“It’s not about who is at the helm of the Islamic Republic … it’s about what the Iranian people are signaling towards their state,” he said. “In the past few years, the chasm between state and society could not have gotten any greater.”

Voter turnout is one way to determine whether the Iranian people support their leaders, and that “should make its way into” U.S. policy.

Nuclear deal

Ben Taleblu also said there could be a return to the 2015 nuclear deal after the election, but before the inauguration of the new president.

“It’s very important to note that even some of the hardest of the hardline candidates want to continue to talk,” he said.

“Despite them bashing the (current) Rouhani government and bashing the nuclear deal, they would want it because ultimately … Iran’s economy is hurting,” he said.

It’s “totally possible” that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could be slipped in during the “lame duck period” of the Hassan Rouhani government, he said.