Iran promotes hardliners as presidential candidates


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Iranian authorities have disqualified prominent moderates as candidates in the snap presidential election scheduled for later this month, narrowing the field to five hardline candidates and one mid-ranking reformist.

The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog responsible for vetting election candidates, announced the approved list on Sunday. Iran is set to hold early polls following the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s president.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current parliamentary Speaker, is seen by analysts as the leading hardline candidate.

The council disqualified Ali Larijani, Ghalibaf’s predecessor and a key figure in the 2015 nuclear deal, as well as Es’haq Jahangiri, a former reformist first vice-president. Both disqualified candidates had campaigned on platforms promising to steer the country away from its current hardline trajectory and to seek the easing of US sanctions. The Guardian Council did not provide reasons for its disqualifications.

Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator known for his opposition to engaging with western powers, was one of those approved. Among the staunchest hardliners, he is expected to be a strong rival to Ghalibaf.

In an attempt to introduce some competition from outside the hardline camp, authorities also approved Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist member of parliament.

However, the main challenge for reformists will be to mobilise their voters, amid widespread scepticism about whether the election will have a real impact on the country’s future direction given that real power lies with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Analysts believe a victory for Pezeshkian would require a high turnout among the urban middle class and would depend on how the votes for hardliners were shared among the five candidates in that camp.

Reformist analyst Saeed Laylaz was hopeful that Pezeshkian’s approval marked a new chapter in Iran’s history. “His candidacy is beyond all expectations,” he told the Financial Times, predicting that it would promote a high voter turnout.  

Former reformist vice-president Mohammad-Ali Abtahi said in a post on X that the main contenders were likely to be Ghalibaf and Pezeshkian. Other candidates include hardliners Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former minister, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a conservative politician, and Alireza Zakani, mayor of Tehran.

The economy remains the foremost challenge for the next president, with high inflation and a dramatically weakened national currency straining the nation. While the Islamic republic tries to keep the race under control, two people who have previously criticised Ghalibaf and his affiliates over corruption allegations were jailed on Sunday after being convicted on charges of “spreading misinformation and disturbing public opinion”.

Khamenei has meanwhile urged candidates not to undermine each other during the election campaign, which will begin on Wednesday.

Laylaz said reformists would throw their full weight behind Pezeshkian in the two weeks before the election. “The positive point about Pezeshkian is that he is not opposed to any of the main elements of power within the establishment. He also has a huge support base among the large Azeri-speaking community in north-western Iran. I can easily imagine him as Iran’s next president,” he said.   



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