TEHRAN — A former speaker of Iran’s parliament and the country’s ultraconservative judiciary chief registered Saturday to run in the Islamic Republic’s upcoming presidential election.
Ali Larijani became the first high-profile candidate to potentially back the policies of the outgoing administration that reached Tehran’s now-tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
Meanwhile former judge Ebrahim Raisi was the leading rival to the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 election, and long the topic of media speculation for this year’s race.
The decision by Larijani, long a prominent conservative voice who later allied himself with Iran’s relatively moderate Rouhani, came on the last day of registration for the June 18 election. While a panel overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately will approve candidates, Larijani has maintained close ties to the cleric over his decades in government.
Journalists in Tehran watched Larijani, 63, register at the Interior Ministry, which oversees elections. He waved to onlookers after completing the process, his face covered by a blue surgical mask as Iran continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Larijani, a former commander in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, previously served as the minister of culture and Islamic guidance and as the head of Iran’s state broadcaster. Under hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he served as secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council for two years, and as a senior nuclear negotiator. He later became speaker of the Iranian parliament for some 12 years, stepping down in May 2020.
Larijani’s family includes prominent members of Iran’s theocracy, with his cleric brother once serving as the head of the Iranian judiciary. His father was a prominent ayatollah.
Larijani had an active role in signing a 25-year strategic agreement with China earlier this year. On Friday, as a sign of respect, Larijani reportedly asked permission to run from high-ranking clerics in the religious city of Qom.
In his own statement, Raisi said he came forward over intense “public demand”, and aims to run “independently in order to bring about a change in the executive management of the country.”
He also vowed to wage “a relentless fight against poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination,” the main slogans of his campaign four years ago.
The two main coalitions of conservative and ultra-conservative factions had already announced their support for Raisi.
Several prominent conservative figures, such as parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, had reportedly said they would stay out of the race if Raisi ran.
A mainstay of Iran’s conservative establishment, the 60-year-old has previously served as attorney general, supervisor of state broadcaster IRIB, and prosecutor in the Special Court for Clerics.
Raisi was appointed by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to take over the judiciary leadership in 2019 from Sadegh Amoli Larijani, brother to Ali Larijani.
At the time, Khamenei called on Raisi to be “with the people, the revolution and against corruption.”
He bears the title of Hojjat al-Islam, which is a rank under Ayatollah in the Shiite cleric hierarchy.
In his 2017 campaign, Raisi took a tough line on Rouhani’s “weak efforts” in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The deal is currently on life-support after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Iran.
Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program, moderates who hold onto the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Those calling for radical change find themselves blocked from even running for office by the Guardian Council, a 12-member panel that vets and approves candidates under Khamenei’s watch.
At the same time Larijani registered, so too did Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, the eldest son of the late former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, a member of Tehran’s city council, has been described as a reformist by political commentators.
Several other candidates have prominent backgrounds in the Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei. Hard-liners have increasingly suggested a former military commander should be president given the country’s problems, something that hasn’t happened since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the purge of the armed forces that followed.
Iran’s former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also registered Wednesday. Though his attempt to run in 2017 ultimately was blocked after Khamenei criticized Ahmadinejad, this year the supreme leader has not warned him off.