Tehran, Iran – Top candidates to become Iran’s next president signed up on the last day of registration on Saturday and the overwhelming majority were conservatives, drawing a backlash from the moderate government.
Ebrahim Raisi, the current conservative head of the judiciary, is considered by analysts most likely to become Iran’s eighth president in the June 18 elections.
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In a statement hours before coming to the interior ministry to sign up, 60-year-old Raisi said he wants to form a “people’s government for a strong Iran” that would fight corruption and improve the country’s economy – which has taken a big hit from United States sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“God, you are witness that I have never been after position or power, and even at this stage I have entered the field despite personal will and interests, and only to serve my duty to answer the people and elites and create hope,” wrote the man who is often cited as the next supreme leader when Ali Khamenei passes away.
Raisi, a former attorney general and custodian of the significant Astan Quds Razavi in Mashhad who was sanctioned by the US in 2019 for human rights violations, enjoys strong backing from a wide range of conservatives and hardliners.
Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf did not register in support of Raisi but former foreign minister Saeed Jalili did register.
Both Raisi and Ghalibaf unsuccessfully ran against outgoing President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, but Raisi managed to garner 38 percent of the votes, or just under 16 million.
Additionally, Mohsen Rezaei, former IRGC commander-in-chief and current secretary of the Expediency Council who has run unsuccessfully four more times, as well as Iran’s central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati also registered.
More than 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote this year, but turnout is expected to be low amid public disillusionment and continued economic woes.
On Saturday, Ali Larijani, former adviser to the supreme leader, who recently brokered the 25-year comprehensive cooperation accord between China and Iran, became the latest key candidate to sign up.
The former parliament speaker said the country needs more than “populistic and Superman-like” promises in its current difficult juncture, and expressed hope ongoing negotiations in Vienna to restore its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers would lead to the lifting of unilateral US sanctions.
First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri registered and reformist Mohsen Hashemi, the current chairman of the Tehran City Council and the eldest son of the late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also signed up.
He was followed by lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian, former transport minister Abbas Akhoundi, and Abolhassan Firouzabadi, the head of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace who is under American sanctions for participating in internet censorship.
Since registration opened on Tuesday, other prominent candidates who signed up include former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Saeed Mohammad, former defence minister Saeed Dehghan, former petroleum minister Rostam Ghasemi, and reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh.
Most of the reformists are expected to be disqualified by the conservative Guardian Council – comprised of six scholars directly appointed by the supreme leader and six legal experts indirectly influenced by him. The council now has until May 27 to announce its final list of qualified candidates.
The council last week unilaterally proclaimed a series of new conditions for the elections that some observers deemed illegal. Among other things, it said candidates must be aged between 40 to 75, have no criminal background – including political dissent – and be able to prove at least four years of senior executive leadership experience.
On Thursday, the government released a statement that tacitly criticised the fact reformists were being purged, as conservatives and hardliners dominate the field, something it said would hurt voter confidence.
“The government deeply believes that unity finds meaning in participation, not in removal,” it said.