Once the new president is elected, he may try to play hardball with Khamenei, as Ahmadinejad did in the last few years, said Vatanka, but the Supreme Leader will want to keep control of anything sensitive. That could be expected to include Iran's positions on Israel, Syria and its controversial nuclear program. Tehran insists its intentions are peaceful, but the West suspects it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
The best the West can hope for, said Vatanka, is that Khamenei uses the election of the new president as a way to shift course slightly without losing face. However, Iran is unlikely to give up a nuclear program it has been pursuing for decades, no matter what the external pressure.
"At the same time, if we have a new face in the presidential palace in Tehran, that can become a catalyst for a new phase to begin between Iran and the world," Vatanka said.
Recent talks between Iran and world powers on the nuclear issue have made little progress. The United States has sought to pile on the pressure by imposing sanctions on Iran's petrochemical industry, its automotive industry and its unit of currency, the rial. Other Western nations have also imposed sanctions on Iran.
What are the major issues for the electorate?
The biggest issue for voters is the country's economic situation, said Khalaji. The economy is in a bad way for three reasons, he says: massive corruption within government, mismanagement and the painful international sanctions.
"The problem is that candidates can promise to people to improve the management and beat the corruption, but they cannot promise to change the foreign policy which led to sanctions, and that creates a dilemma for anyone who wants to be president this time," said Khalaji. "The executive power suffers from the foreign policy but has little role in shaping it."
A change in foreign policy, and specifically U.S.-Iran relations, is seen by many voters as central to improving their everyday life because of the international sanctions, which are so closely intertwined with the economic situation, said Vatanka.
Iranians have grown used to living with corruption, mismanagement and restricted freedoms over the years, he said, but the sanctions are causing new pain by hitting ordinary people in the pocket and causing shortages of everyday goods. The rial has plunged, inflation is running at over 35%, unemployment is rising and oil revenues dropped by half last year because of sanctions.
This has bred a great desire for change, Vatanka said.
"But the question at the heart of the matter is, does the average Iranian believe that voting matters any more?" he said."If you don't believe it matters, you can be as angry and disillusioned as you want, but you are not going to drag yourself to the ballot box."
Will the election change anything for the Iranian people?
If one of the candidates close to Khamenei wins the election, little is likely to change in the cultural or social arena, said Khalaji.
Ghalibaf, currently serving his second term as mayor of Tehran, is as hardline as Ahmadinejad when it comes to social and Islamic issues, he said. "But it's very obvious that his economic management is much better than Ahmadinejad's."
The other candidates seen as close to Khamenei have held political rather than senior management roles, he said, so it's hard to judge.
Essentially, said Vatanka, what follows the election will depend on more on what Khamenei and his people consider necessary to lessen the pain of sanctions than on who wins.
"It could be an opportunity for Khamenei to soften the Iranian position without being associated with that softening necessarily," he said of the vote.