On April 20, Iran’s Guardian Council slashed the list of 1,636 applicants hoping to run in May 19’s presidential election down to six candidates. The finalists include Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent president; Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative custodian of the highly influential Imam Reza Foundation; Mohamed-Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran’s current mayor; Es’hagh Jahangiri, Rouhani’s centrist vice president; and Mostafa Hashemi-Taba and Mostafa Mir-Salim, centrist and conservative former ministers, respectively. Of those removed from the list, the most notable is former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who against Khamenei’s wishes recently declared that he would run alongside his former Vice President Hamid Baghaei.
If the 2013 elections are any indicator, moderate candidates will now coalesce around Rouhani. That year, Mohammed-Reza Aref, current head of the reformists’ Hope List parliamentary faction, withdrew in support of Rouhani. This year, Jahangiri and Hashemi-Taba could well follow suit given that the reformist faction, which has generally backed moderate centrists, has already announced that it would throw its weight behind Rouhani. Without explicitly saying so, Ali Larijani did the same. He is the conservative speaker of parliament who has been gradually distancing himself from the hardliners.
According to some reformists, Jahangiri’s candidacy was really just a Plan B in case the Guardian Council rejected Rouhani. The same might be said of Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, another moderate-centrist former minister, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2001 elections that saw Mohammad Khatami’s re-election as president.
Over the coming weeks, such maneuvering should clear the field for Rouhani to take on a conservative challenger. In Iran, although the candidates for the presidency are selected by the Guardian Council in consultation with the supreme leader, the competition after the list is set is mostly unscripted.
The centrist-reformist camp will face off against three conservatives: Ghalibaf, Raisi, and Mir-Salim. All are associated with the Popular Front for the Forces of the Islamic Revolution, known by its Persian acronym JAMNA, an umbrella group
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