Rouhani Enters Iran Election Race Focused on His Economic RecordBy and
Cleric Raisi, ex-President Ahmadinejad are serious opponents
Iran’s Guardian Council to review all candidates for post
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani will seek a second term, ending weeks of speculation by joining an election field with hardliners including his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who’s seen as his most credible challenger.
Rouhani, the 68-year-old moderate cleric who prioritized engagement with the West and was the architect of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, registered for the May 19 poll at the interior ministry on Friday. Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, followed within hours. All candidates are subject to a vetting process by the powerful Guardian Council, and those who qualify are to be announced by April 27.
“I’ve come back again for Iran, I’ve come back again for Islam, for better stability across our country, for greater security and more progress,” Rouhani said after registering. “We have to gather again for Islam, to build Iran together. ”
Rouhani has spent weeks defending his economic record, pushing back against critics who argue that ordinary people are yet to feel any benefits from the nuclear deal and subsequent lifting of sanctions. In addition to Ahmadinejad, who registered earlier last week, Rouhani is likely to face a strong challenge from the 56-year-old Raisi, who can attract conservative voters from Iran’s provinces.
“Rouhani was elected primarily on the promise of elevating the economic position of Iranians,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said before the president registered his candidacy. While many delegations have come since the lifting of sanctions, “people are not seeing a huge elevation for Iran in terms of the economy or its place on the international stage,” she said.
Raisi, speaking to reporters after he registered, made reference to a need for adjustments.
“Approaches have to change,” Raisi told reporters. “We must create an economy that supports production and respects the role of the people in the economy. An economy that won’t be damaged by those days when there are social and political shocks."
Raisi was appointed last year by Khamenei to manage a wealthy Islamic charity that controls Iran’s holiest shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad. His background and ties to Khamenei means it’s unlikely that he would be rejected.
Geranmayeh said Raisi will be a serious contender “given his current position as the head of the religious endowment.” It appears that it “will be turban against turban with Rouhani on one side and Raisi the other,” she said.
Over 1,600 hopefuls signed up in the registration that closed on Saturday after a five-day window. These include Rouhani’s first Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, who said he and Rouhani "are together and complement" one another, in an indication that he may later withdraw in support of the incumbent president. Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani, the brother of late ex-president Ali Akkbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- who had been an ally of Rouhani -- also registered.
Another participant was Tehran Mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who ran in 2013 and lost to Rouhani. Qalibaf’s record was damaged by a corruption investigation last year and protests over safety failures that may have caused a tower in Tehran to collapse after catching fire in January, killing 20 firefighters.
Ahmadinejad, who flashed a V for victory sign as he registered April 12, was embroiled in conflicts with officials during his second term and his entry is seen in apparent defiance of Khamenei, who had asked that he doesn’t run to avoid polarizing the country.