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Former Central Banker Puts Economy At Center Of Iran Presidential Bid

Social media interest in the former governor of Iran’s central bank Abdolnaser Hemmati as a presidential candidate has spiked since Saturday evening when he answered questions about his candidacy for three hours in a Clubhouse session joined by thousands. In the past 24 hours Hemmati's name has risen to the top of Persian-language hashtags, with MyVoteRegimeChange and NoToIslamicRepublic hashtags closely following his name.

President Hassan Rouhani relieved him of his post at the central bank on Sunday, apparently to be in sync with Iranian law that says senior government officials must resign their post if they are a candidate in an election.

Hemmati told his Clubhouse audience that he favored a “free market economy,” privatization, joining the conventions of the international money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and “internet freedom.” He stressed the value of having an economist as president and suggested that the dominance of politics had for 30 years harmed the economy.

In stressing the damage done by delaying the approval of laws enabling Iran to join the FATF − two of four passed by parliament are stuck at the Expediency Council – Hemmati suggested a "shadow government" was contributing to Iran’s economic woes.

Hemmati is a member of the central council of the technocratic Kargozaran-e Sazandegi (Executives of Construction) Party, originally established by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997. But Hemmati is running independently without its endorsement.

The ‘Reformist Front,’ which Kargozaran has been part of, announced in a statement last week it would not support any candidates in the June 18 elections as none of those it favored were cleared to stand by the watchdog Guardian Council. While rooted in Rafsanjani’s pragmatic conservatism and belief in economic liberalization, Kargozaran has cooperated with the reformists in recent times, largely due to a shared belief in accepting limits to the nuclear program as a price for easing international tensions.

Hemmati will look towards the substantial part of the Iranian electorate that tends to decide late about elections. A poll by IPSA, a government agency, carried out May 26-27 found 53 percent of voters undecided.

Hemmati may also seek to benefit from any public support for efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and see United States sanctions eased. His descriptions of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as "a patriot" and "intelligent" have fed social media speculation that Zarif may throw his weight behind Hemmati.

The former central banker told his Clubhouse audience he would be defeated only if people "irked" by the circumstances surrounding the elections stayed away from the ballot boxes. Excluding the reformist Mohsen Mehralizadeh, he said he was in a competition of "one against five [principlist] candidates]."

Hemmati was the underdog in surveys published by government outfits, but some social-media users were impressed by Hemmati's promise to give women a higher place in the government and his choice of his wife to represent him in an interview on a state television election program Sunday. Sepideh Shabestari appeared in a colorful blue headscarf to answer questions about Hemmati as a candidate and family member. Shabestari's name jumped into the top ten Persian-language hashtags afterwards.

"It's taboo-breaking when you send your wife to speak on your behalf when other candidates are misogynists," a female twitteratus wrote Monday. "Sepideh Shabestari appeared really clever and spoke with confidence," Ehsan Soltani, a student of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Venice, Italy, tweeted after the program. Over 2.1K other twitterati liked his tweet.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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