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Who are the candidates in Iran’s presidential election?

From a hardline cleric close to Supreme Leader Khamenei to a former leader of Iran’s IRGC, Iranian voters head to the polls to elect the country’s next leader

This combination of four photos shows candidates for the June 18, 2021, Iranian presidential elections from left to right; Abdolnasser Hemmati, Mohsen Rezaei, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Ebrahim Raisi. (AP Photo)
This combination of four photos shows candidates for the June 18, 2021, Iranian presidential elections from left to right; Abdolnasser Hemmati, Mohsen Rezaei, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Ebrahim Raisi. (AP Photo)

Iranians were voting Friday on who should be the country’s next president amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

While the race is wide open due to President Hassan Rouhani being term-limited from running again, authorities barred his allies and nearly every reformist from entering the race.

That has analysts believing hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi is the clear front-runner. The only competitor who represents a stand-in for Rouhani’s administration, the former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, has argued others in the race serve as proxies for Raisi and allow the cleric to avoid criticizing him directly.

Here’s a look at the candidates competing.

Ebrahim Raisi

Iran’s presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, points during a campaign rally in Eslamshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, June 6, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Raisi, 60, is a hardline cleric close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has vowed to combat poverty and corruption.

In 2016, Khamenei appointed Raisi as head of the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran. Khamenei called Raisi a “trustworthy and highly experienced” person, causing many to wonder if he might also be a possible successor to the supreme leader himself.

He lost his 2017 presidential challenge to Rouhani, though he earned over 15 million votes in the contest. After the loss, Khamenei appointed the former law professor to be the head of the country’s judiciary. There, he’s waged a televised anti-corruption campaign that resonated with a public frustrated by graft.

His candidacy also has revived the controversy surrounding the 1988 mass execution of thousands in Iran, one of the darkest moments of Iran’s post-revolution history still not recognized by its government. Raisi served on a panel involved in sentencing the prisoners to death. He hasn’t commented publicly on the accusation.

Abdolnasser Hemmati

Former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, one of the seven candidates in Iran’s presidential election, gives a press conference, in Tehran, Iran, June 15, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Hemmati, 64, served for several years at the head of Iran’s Central Bank under Rouhani and amid the renewed American sanctions that followed the US’ unilateral withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal. Though serving in Rouhani’s government, he’s repeatedly described himself as an independent candidate.

Hemmati, an economics professor, has worked as the head of both private and government banks, as well as Iran’s central insurance agency. He also once served as Iran’s ambassador to China for a short period.

The technocrat has drawn attention for appointing his wife, Sepideh Shabestari, as one of his representatives and top advisers in Iran’s short election season. He’s a black belt in karate as well, something that drew the public’s interest.

Hemmati has said his goals as president include decreasing poverty through better economic ties with the world, implementing a smaller government, and getting the country off of the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force, an international agency that monitors terrorism funding.

Other candidates include:

Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi

Deputy Parliament Speaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi speaks to journalists after registering his name as a candidate for the upcoming, presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran, Iran, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Hashemi, 50, is considered by analysts to be a low-profile conservative politician. He’s served as a parliament member since 2007 and now is a member of the parliament’s board of chairmen, which manages the legislature’s affairs.

An ear-nose-and-throat specialist surgeon by profession, Hashemi has vowed to restore Iran’s stock market in the first three days in office, a tough goal as the market’s value has nearly halved in the last year.

Mohsen Rezaei

In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei speaks in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, June 5, 2021. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)

Rezaei, 66, is a former leader of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and has been a hardline candidate in several elections. He’s wanted by Argentina on an Interpol “Red Notice” over his alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

Both Rezaei and the Iranian government deny orchestrating the attack. He also faced criticism over allegedly mismanaging battles in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and his tension with Iran’s regular military.

He serves now as the secretary of Expediency Council, which arbitrates disputes between parliament and Iran’s constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council. Rezaei also threatened in Iran’s first presidential debate to imprison Hemmati.

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