Announcement only solidifies conservative Ebrahim Raisi’s position as by far the top candidate.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to ignore calls to boycott next month’s presidential election after a decision to exclude several prominent figures from running.
“Do not pay attention to those who promote that voting is useless,” Khamenei said during a speech to legislators via videoconference on Thursday, calling on Iranians to “participate” in the June 18 vote.
“Elections are held in one day, but the effect lasts for several years,” he added, according to his official Instagram account.
Members of the exiled opposition have been running social media campaigns urging people in the country to abstain from voting.
Khamenei’s comments came two days after the Guardian Council, a 12-member vetting body overseen by the supreme leader, approved seven contenders out of 592 aspirants, with none of them being a prominent reformist or pragmatist.
Those approved by the council are incumbent judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi; secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei; former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; deputy parliament speaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi; former vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh; central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati; and legislator Alireza Zakani.
“The respected Guardian Council did what it had to do and what it deemed necessary to do as its duty, [and] determined the candidates,” Khamenei said.
There are two main blocs in the Iranian political spectrum: reformists, who are more on the liberal side, and principlists, who are the conservatives of the country’s politics. While the division of factions is not so straightforward (analysts point out that within each bloc, there are various views on major issues), Iran’s ruling elite has generally been divided between a pragmatic faction that aims for better international relations with the West and hardliners who are wary of reforms.
The disqualification of most notable pragmatists and reformists, such as former parliament speaker Ali Larijani and current reformist First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, is believed to further strengthen the position of Raisi, a conservative who is widely seen as the top candidate.
In the 2017 election, Raisi came second with 15.8 million votes, behind incumbent reformist President Hassan Rouhani, who got 23.5 million.
Earlier this month, the Guardian Council said it would consider candidates aged between 40 and 75 with no criminal record – including political dissent – and are able to prove at least four years of senior executive leadership experience.
Raisi said this week that since he had heard about the final list, which was leaked by hardline news website Fars on Monday night, he has been trying to lobby high-level officials to qualify other candidates in order to make the election more “competitive”.
Unconfirmed reports on Tuesday also said Rouhani had sent a letter to Khamenei asking him to allow reformist and moderate candidates to be qualified in order to level the playing field.
Opinion polls, including one conducted this month by Iran’s state-run television, have suggested turnout in the vote could be as low as 30 percent, significantly lower than in previous elections.
The election campaign runs until June 16, with candidates due to participate in three televised debates.