TEHRAN. The former speaker of Iran’s parliament and the ultra-conservative head of the country’s judiciary registered on Saturday to run for the Islamic Republic’s upcoming presidential elections.
Ali Larijani became the first senior candidate to potentially back the outgoing administration’s policies that reached Tehran’s now tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
Meanwhile, former judge Ebrahim Raisi was the main rival of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 election and has long been the subject of media speculation in this year’s election race.
The decision of Larijani, a long-standing conservative who later teamed up with the relatively moderate Iranian Rouhani, came on the last day of registration to run in the June 18 elections. While a commission overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will eventually approve the candidates, Larijani maintained close ties with the cleric throughout his decades in government.
Iranian Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the death of the late General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, January 1, 2021 (AP Photo / Ebrahim Noroozi)
Journalists in Tehran watched Larijani, 63, register with the Interior Ministry, which oversees the elections. He waved to viewers after the trial was complete, his face covered with a blue surgical mask as Iran continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
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Larijani, a former commander of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, previously served as Minister of Culture and Islamic Leadership and as head of Iran’s state broadcaster. Under the tough president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he served for two years as secretary to Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council and one of the top negotiators on nuclear issues. He later became speaker of the Iranian parliament for about 12 years, retiring in May 2020.
The Larijani family includes prominent figures of the Iranian theocracy, and his brother-priest was once the head of the Iranian judicial system. His father was a famous Ayatollah.
Larijani played 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 flee from senior clerics in the religious city of Qom.
In his own statement, Raisi said he spoke out in response to intense “public demand” and intends to act “independently to bring about changes in the country’s executive leadership.”
He also pledged to wage “a merciless fight against poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination” – the main slogans of his campaign four years ago.
Taken May 16, 2017, this photo shows a hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi speaking during a presidential rally in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo / Vahid Salemi, file)
The two main coalitions of the conservative and ultra-conservative factions have already pledged their support for Raisi.
Some prominent conservatives, such as Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, reportedly said they would not race if Raisi ran.
A stronghold of Iran’s conservative establishment, the 60-year-old previously served as attorney general, head of state-run broadcaster IRIB, and prosecutor at the Special Clergy Court.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Raisi to take over the judiciary in 2019 from Sadegh Amoli Larijani, brother of Ali Larijani.
At the time, Khamenei called on Raisi to “be with the people, the revolution and resist corruption.”
He bears the title Khojat al-Islam, which is the title of Ayatollah in the Shiite spiritual hierarchy.
In his 2017 campaign, Raisi spoke out harshly about Rouhani’s “weak efforts” in negotiations for a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani at a news conference in Tehran, Iran, December 1, 2019. (AP / Wahid Salemi, file)
The deal is currently supported after former US President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018 and re-imposed punitive sanctions on Iran.
Inside Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that includes hardliners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program, moderates who adhere to the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Those calling for radical change are not even allowed to run for office by the Guardian Council, a 12-member commission that vets and approves candidates under Khamenei’s supervision.
At the same time, Larijani registered, as well as 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 called a reformer by political observers.
Several other candidates have prominent backgrounds in the Guards, a paramilitary group only accountable to Khamenei. Hardliners are increasingly offering the former military commander to become president given the country’s troubles, something that has not happened since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the military purge that followed.
Former Iranian hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also checked in on Wednesday. Although his attempt to run in 2017 was ultimately blocked after Khamenei criticized Ahmadinejad, the supreme leader did not warn him this year.