x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Registration for Iran presidential election candidates begins

Iranian authorities have opened the registration process for candidates in next month's presidential election that will pick a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offer a critical test for reformists battered after years of crackdowns.

TEHRAN // Iranian authorities opened the registration process yesterday for candidates in next month's presidential election that will pick a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offer a critical test for reformists battered after years of crackdowns.

The leaders of the reform movement four years ago are under house arrest and liberal groups have faced relentless pressure since the 2009 unrest to protest Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.

It appears unlikely that prominent pro-reform figures, such as former president Mohammad Khatami, will seek a spot on the June 14 ballot.

The ruling clerics will vet all hopefuls who submit their names during the five-day registration period. Only a handful of candidates are expected to be approved when the final list is unveiled later this month by the Guardian Council, which supervises the election.

The slate is almost certain to be heavily stacked with candidates considered loyal to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been angered by challenges to his authority by Mr Ahmadinejad and the president's allies.

Among the front-runners are a senior Khamenei adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and the former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, who registered his candidacy yesterday.

The ruling clerics want an end to the internal political battles opened by Mr Ahmadinejad and more coordination with the presidency over strategies on nuclear talks and efforts to confront international sanctions against Tehran's nuclear programme.

Most of the main candidates have vowed to shun Mr Ahmadinejad's bombastic style and seek to reduce tensions with the West and its allies. But all strongly support Iran's ability to maintain a full-scale nuclear programme, including uranium enrichment.

Another subplot in the election is the fate of Mr Ahmadinejad's top political protege, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is expected to seek a spot on the ballot.

Mr Mashaei's reputation has suffered in the backlash against Mr Ahmadinejad's failed attempts to encroach on Ayatollah Khamenei's powers. It is possible he will be rejected for the ballot, forcing Mr Ahmadinejad - who still has considerable support around the country - to align himself with another candidate.