Iran on Tuesday approved seven hopefuls to run in next month’s presidential poll, a list dominated by ultraconservatives as key establishment figure Ali Larijani was disqualified in a shock move.
That could clear the way for a strong run by ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in the June 18 poll, which comes as Tehran seeks to salvage its nuclear deal with world powers.
Raisi won 38 percent of the vote in 2017 elections but was defeated by moderate now-President Hassan Rouhani, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
The conservative-dominated Guardian Council, which vets election candidates, also barred firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The list, announced by the interior ministry, had been leaked before the official announcement and sparked criticism from reformists and even conservatives.
“I have never seen the Guardian Council criticized and blasted so much from the far right to the far left,” said reformist journalist Mostafa Faghihi on Twitter.
The press had widely predicted a showdown between Raisi and former parliament speaker Larijani, a moderate conservative and currently an advisor to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Reformists had pinned their hopes on Eshaq Jahangiri, first-vice president to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, but he was also barred.
Kian Abdollahi, editor-in-chief of ultraconservative Tasnim news agency, said the council’s disqualification of several key candidates was not “justifiable to the public” and that “a major part” of conservatives opposed it.
Ultraconservative Fars news agency had reported the disqualification of the three heavyweights on Monday night.
It described the move as a “no to those who created the status quo”, implying that the barred hopefuls were responsible for Iran’s deep economic and social woes.
– ‘God’s will’ –
The election comes as global powers meet in Vienna since in efforts to bring Washington back into a deal over Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. left in 2018.
The withdrawal under then president Donald Trump and re-imposition of U.S. sanctions led to Iran stepping up its nuclear activities.
Larijani, who was a key domestic backer of the 2015 deal, conceded his disqualification on Tuesday, although technically he has until midnight overnight on Tuesday to lodge an appeal.
“Dear nation of Iran; now that the election was decided to be so, I have fulfilled my duty,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I am content with God’s will,” he wrote, calling on Iranians to turn up and vote “for the progress” of the nation.
Many political figures and analysts said there was hardly a competition any more, as the disqualification of his main rivals should allow Raisi an easy victory.
They include ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Major General Mohsen Rezai, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and ultraconservative MPs Alireza Zakani and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi.
The list also includes reformist ex-vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, deemed close to the left.
Conservative analyst Mohammad Imani argued that Raisi had already “topped all the polls” and his potential win would be more credible if he had more competitors.
Raisi said he had busy since Monday “making calls” and “consultations” to keep more hopefuls in the poll.
“Ever since I was informed about (the list) yesterday evening, I started making calls and am busy consulting so that the election scene can be more competitive with a high turnout,” he wrote on Twitter.