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Will Zarif Run Against A Hardliner In Iran Presidential Race?

Iranian media reports on Saturday [May 8], as well as anecdotal accounts by political figures and analysts on social media, have made it clear that the final race in Iran's upcoming presidential election is likely to take place between current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi and the embattled Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The foreign minister’s chances of getting approved by the hardliner election watchdog, the Guardian Council, are not high after he was heard attacking Qasem Soleimani and the IRGC in a leaked audio tape obtained and published by Iran International. After a harsh attack by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it is hard to see his candidacy being approved.

Nevertheless, two of Tehran's reformist dailies, Arman and Etemad, on Saturday featured extensive reports about the likelihood of the two men facing off in the presidential election on June 18 as leading candidates for the country's two political fronts: Zarif as a reform camp candidate and Raeesi representing conservatives and hardliners. 

In the meantime, anecdotal accounts by well-known proreform figures such as Sadegh Kharrazi on social media said that Zarif would meet with the high council of reformists, an umbrella organization represented by several reform parties to present his plans as a presidential candidate. Others said that Zarif would run as an independent candidate, in which case, he needs to present his plans and platform to the voters in public statements.

This is what Zarif did to an extent in nearly 10 interviews since mid-March, as well as in his controversial leaked interview that reshuffled the deck in Iranian politics. 

Hardliner Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raeesi (R) with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. FILE PHOTO

Iran's Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi seen as a trusted figure by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei  

On the conservative front, Iran's state television has been recently showing old Raeesi videos performing congregational prayers at the shrine of the Shiites' 8th Imam in Mashhad, three times a day at dawn, midday and dusk, portraying him as a respectable cleric. He is expected to announce his candidacy on Eid al-Fitr, an eye-catching end of Ramadan next week. That would be nearly time when registration of candidates starts at the Interior Ministry.

According to Arman, Zarif is ahead of other reformist candidates in many polls conducted by the reformists press. Arman wrote on Saturday that if Zarif comes forward as a candidate, there will be a consensus about his candidacy at the reform front and this will affect the turnout in the election. However, Zarif is still sitting on the fence.

The daily was of course aware that the leaked tape may prevent Zarif from running in the election. Nonetheless, Arman portrayed him as a champion of diplomacy who can help Iran leave behind the political and economic difficulties of the past eight years. 

Meanwhile, the daily opined that the controversial leak was part of a plot against Zarif to prevent him from representing the reformists in the upcoming election. Arman attempted to portray Zarif as a close friend of former Qods (Quds) Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani whom Zarif harshly criticized in the leaked interview. The daily further opined that Zarif's candid remarks in the tape might prompt many voters to back him in the election. The paper also claimed that in polls conducted on Twitter, Instagram and Telegram Zarif is ahead of Raeesi.

Although there are too may military and civilian rivals who have declared their candidacy in the conservative camp, Raeesi is the only one who has a good track record of winning over 16 million votes in the 2017 presidential election. Many of his rivals have said that they will not run if Raeesi does.

Some conservative figures have said that Raeesi needs Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's approval before announcing his candidacy because in his current position as Chief Justice he is Khamenei's appointed representative. This comes while traditionally, all presidential candidates seek Khamenei's approval before announcing their candidacy.

For many conservatives, Raeesi's absence may lead to their political rival faction's victory in the election because the conservative camp is too divided and there are too many conservative candidates.


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