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‘Populism, Magic Keys, Or Superman’ Can’t Solve Iran’s Problems: Larijani

Former parliamentary speaker and early riser Ali Larijani arrived at the interior ministry as soon as it opened Saturday to register for the June 18 presidential election and wasted no time delivering a trademark quip.

"Iran's problems today cannot be solved by populist measures [a reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], a magic key [President Hasan Rouhani], or by impersonating Superman."

Superman would be judiciary chief Ebrahim Raeesi, not only a declared presidential candidate but widely seen as probable contender in due course to succeed Ali Khamenei, 81, as supreme leader. Rouhani is ineligible to stand for a third consecutive term, while Ahmadinejad is unlike to pass the watchdog Guardian Council, which did not allow him to stand in 2017.

With registration closed Saturday afternoon, an array of political heavyweights as well as low-key current and former officials registered their candidacy. Larijani and Raeesi are the likely frontrunners, who wasted no time quipping against each other. However, both are officials with close ties to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Ebrahim Raeesi arrives to register as presidential candidate. May 15, 2021

Raeesi won nearly 16 million votes (38 percent) running against Rouhani in 2017. Larijani won only 1.7 million (6 percent) in 2005 in a strong field of seven: a pragmatic conservative, the son and son-in-law of leading ayatollahs, Larijani played a leading role in organizing parliamentary support for Rouhani, including at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Raeesi issued a statement, just before registering, with a counter-attack aimed in part at Larijani. "Those who have created the current situation or contributed to it cannot change it," wrote the chief justice.

Among others registering on the last day was Mohsen Rezaei (Rezaee), former Revolutionary Guards commander and current secretary of the Expediency Council, who stood unsuccessfully in 2009 and 2013. Other last-minute registrations came from Central Bank Governor Abdolnasser Hemmati and vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri.   

An amendment to the election law passed by the Majles and currently stuck at the Guardian Council called on candidates to present their plans for their administration and to name their vice president(s) at the time of their registration. But this was widely ignored, although reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh said he would publish a manifesto in due course.  

Other hopefuls included former housing minister Abbas Akhondi, Tehran City Council Chief Mohsen Hashemi, former state television chief Ezzatollah Zarghami, and members of parliament Massoud Pezeshkian, Mostafa Kavakebian, and Alireza Zakani.

Saeed Jalili, the former chief security official, surprised observers by registering after previously saying he would not stand against Raeesi. Jalili might act as ‘pace-setter,’ supporting Raeesi and then withdrawing his candidacy late in the campaign. Jahangiri played this role in Rouhani’s re-election in 2017 and might do the same for Larijani in 2021.

During the next five days, the Guardian Council will vet the candidates and announce those cleared to stand. Anyone rejected will have five further days to appeal.

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