June 12 (Bloomberg) -- Former Iranian Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami endorsed presidential candidate Hassan Rohani in this week’s election after another candidate bowed out.
“I will vote for Dr. Rohani, who entered the race after consulting me,” Rafsanjani said in remarks reported yesterday by ILNA news agency.
Khatami wrote on his website yesterday that “I will give my vote” to Rohani. Iranians “seeking a positive evolution in politics, culture, economy and foreign policy can make a decision toward a better future for the society,” Khatami said.
Both former leaders are known as open to engagement with the West and have expressed sympathy with the 2009 opposition movement, which accused authorities of ballot fraud to deny a reformist candidate victory.
Rohani’s campaign received a boost yesterday after Mohammad Reza Aref, a candidate who served as a vice president in Khatami’s administration, stepped down to clear the way for Rohani. Both men had campaigned as reformists.
Rohani, a cleric who was a chief negotiator in talks on Iran’s nuclear program during Khatami’s presidency, has been campaigning for more media freedom and an easing of social restrictions. He also said he will seek to steer the nation away from the confrontational path with the West taken by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is ineligible to run for a third consecutive term in the June 14 election.
Six candidates remain in the race, after ex-parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel dropped out on June 10 in an effort to prevent the dilution of votes for conservative contenders. If no candidate gets a majority in the first round, the top two will compete in a June 21 runoff.
Saeed Jalili, the current chief nuclear negotiator and one of the main conservative contenders in the race, has called for “resistance” in the face of foreign powers’ sanctions against Iran over its nuclear development program. Another conservative candidate is the former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, a close adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s supreme leader.
Opposition from Khamenei may cause Rohani to fall short in his presidential bid, said Alireza Nader, a senior analyst in the Arlington, Virginia, office of the Rand Corporation, a research group. “It is not clear Khamenei has decided who he wants to be president,” Nader said. “He doesn’t want Rohani to win.”
About 51 percent of Iranians are undecided about who to vote for or said they will not cast ballots at all, said Akbar Torkan, the deputy head of Rohani’s campaign headquarters, citing local polls. Torkan said he expected Khatami’s support to boost participation, according to the report published yesterday by the state-run Iranian Students News Agency.
Rohani, who backs Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program, has said technological progress shouldn’t come at the expense of the economy and the well-being of the population.
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