Popular justice chief opposes reformers in Iranian presidential election

Iranian justice chief Ebrahim Raisi has announced that he will run in the presidential election on June 18.

Once criticized for his alleged involvement in the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s, Raisi reconstituted himself as a populist, campaigning against corruption, talking to ordinary people about their court cases, and traveling to underprivileged provinces during the pandemic.

Raisi is seen as the main candidate, but will be challenged by pro-reform politicians on a list that will be approved by the Council of Guardians, the radical constitutional watchdog.

Before officially registering his interior ministry appointment on Saturday, the 60-year-old cleric said gradual changes in the country had not helped him achieve the goal of becoming a strong Iran.

“The result of the election should be a real development to restore hope and enthusiasm to society,” he said. ‘In the near future, the bitter feelings of injustice. . . will become the sweet and desirable taste of the implementation of justice. ”

President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist politician who bet on the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, will resign this summer after two terms.

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and impose tough sanctions on Iran was a blow to Rouhani and the pro-reformist forces who had backed his candidacy.

Reformists must win the support of the Iranians who backed Rouhani in his landslide 2017 victory over Raisi, but who said they would never vote again to protest the economic hardship caused by U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

Many Iranians believe that having a hard line like Raisi in the presidency would make no difference because pro and anti-reform politicians are all the same.

First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri is the main reformist candidate. He admitted on Saturday that public confidence in ruling institutions had waned and many people no longer believed their votes could make a difference.

He warned the Iranians that the country’s situation was alarming and could worsen if they remained passive.

“I understand that many compatriots are upset by bad governance and have no hope in the elections,” he said. “We have no choice but to revive the ballot boxes.”

As a member of the outgoing government, Jahangiri is held responsible by many Iranians, including business leaders, for their suffering and Rouhani’s poor economic record.

Ali Larijani, a 63-year-old centrist politician and former speaker of parliament, is another prominent candidate who registered on Saturday morning. He is best known internationally as Iran’s former nuclear negotiator.

Larijani has supported the Iranian president in previous nuclear negotiations and his role in the legislature was crucial. By opposing radical forces, he enabled Rouhani to strike a deal with the world powers.

The biggest challenge of the election is the expected low turnout, which would be seen as a rejection of the Islamic republic.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that his top priority was a high turnout that “would help increase the country’s deterrent power, give it security and credibility.”

Raisi, widely seen as supported by the Revolutionary Guard elite, could benefit from a pro-reform voter boycott because he appeals to lower-middle-class Iranians who tend to vote in all elections and who generally favor populist politicians.

He is also close to the Supreme Leader and, as a senior justice official, is identified with an emphasis on promoting domestic production rather than better international relations.

Raisi nonetheless supported the nuclear talks in Vienna and said he would pursue “smart and innovative diplomacy” and “waste no second having the cruel sanctions lifted” if elected.

The Guardian Council will announce the names of those eligible to run for office ahead of the three-week campaign that begins on May 28.

Dozens of politicians and military figures have registered. Most should be banned.

The list includes Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former political prisoner, who broke social and political taboos by demanding an end to compulsory Islamic coverage for women and challenged the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the extremist former Iranian president who remains popular among the poor but has fallen victim to the regime, submitted his candidacy on Wednesday. He said he would not vote for any candidate if he was barred from running, a move that could weaken support for Raisi among poorer segments of society.

Larijani said on Saturday that “the economic realm is neither a garrison nor a court to be run with orders,” clearly targeting members of the guards as well as Raisi and his anti-corruption campaign. “It is naive to think that a few populist movements can help resolve [Iran’s] problems.”

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