Champion of Iran Reforms Backs Rouhani Before Presidential Election

  • Former President Khatami endorses Rouhani to maintain course
  • Says Rouhani loss may cause return of ‘difficult conditions’

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani won a key endorsement from a former leader dubbed the “father of reforms” ahead of this month’s election.

“Our candidate is Mr. Rouhani,” ex-President Mohammad Khatami said on his website, lauding Rouhani for leading Iran out of international isolation and securing the lifting of economic sanctions through the nuclear deal with world powers. “Not choosing Rouhani means strengthening the possibility of the return of those difficult conditions,” he said.

Khatami pushed for mutual understanding and improved relations with the West as president from 1997 to 2005, as well as supporting a freer media and stronger civil society at home. While he was forced to the political margins by hardliners, he maintains significant support among moderate and reformist politicians and Iranians seeking more social freedoms -- a key constituency for Rouhani as he seeks a second term in the May 19 poll.

The 2015 nuclear agreement -- and the economic benefits or lack of stemming from it -- is a central issue in the presidential race. Conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf have emerged as Rouhani’s main challengers, and though neither has spoken against the nuclear pact itself, they have accused him of failing to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians as the economy opens up.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on all candidates to avoid relying on foreign investors to strengthen the economy if elected, increasing the likelihood that a victory by one of Rouhani’s conservative rivals would limit future engagement with the West.

Six Candidates

On Tuesday Raisi, who manages an powerful Islamic charity in the northeastern city of Mashhad, picked up the endorsement of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, a holy city in Iran, the Tasnim news agency said.

Speaking in a campaign trip to the western province of Ilam, 56-year-old called on Iranians to “change their destiny” by voting for him, and vowed to curb corruption.

Six candidates are running for president, though they include Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, who has said he will campaign alongside Rouhani. In the first televised presidential debate on Friday, Jahangiri countered Qalibaf’s accusations that the president had failed to deliver on his pledges.

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