A hard-line cleric in charge of Iran’s judiciary, who also took part in a panel involved in the mass execution of thousands of prisoners in 1988, registered Saturday to run for the country’s presidency.
Ebrahim Raisi has also been named as a possible successor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, leading some to suggest he wouldn’t run in the presidential race. However, his registration shows he still has interest in the office he failed to obtain in 2017, when he lost to current President Hassan Rouhani.
Raisi’s close ties to Khamenei and popularity, in part from his televised anti-corruption campaign, could make him a favorite in an election in which analysts already believe hard-liners enjoy an edge. A crush of journalists followed Raisi through the Interior Ministry as he registered Saturday, the 60-year-old cleric waving to staffers as he passed.
In a statement just before his registration, Raisi promised to fight “poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination” if he becomes president.
He added his tenure in office would seek to have a “popular administration for a powerful Iran,” a dig at Iran’s current president, the relatively moderate Rouhani, who has struggled under re-imposed U.S. sanctions after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal. Rouhani is barred by term limits from running again.
Raisi, wearing a black turban, offered fiery remarks to journalists on his campaign. He vowed that if he wins the June 18 vote, corruption will be “dried up.”
Activists, however, hold a far different view of Raisi over his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of prisoners at the end of Iran’s long war with Iraq.
Raisi has never publicly acknowledged his role in the executions, even while campaigning for president in 2017. Although he lost to Rouhani, he garnered nearly 16 million votes in his campaign. Khamenei appointed him as head of the judiciary in 2019, signaling he still had hopes for Raisi’s political career.
In 2016, Khamenei also appointed Raisi to run the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran.
Analysts have speculated that Khamenei could be grooming Raisi as a possible candidate to be Iran’s third-ever supreme leader, a Shi’ite cleric who has final say on all state matters and serves as the country’s commander-in-chief.
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Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program, moderates who hold onto the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Those calling for radical change find themselves blocked from even running for office by the Guardian Council, a 12-member panel that vets and approves candidates under Khamenei’s watch.
Other candidates who registered Saturday include Ali Larijani, a prominent conservative voice and former parliament speaker who later allied himself with Rouhani.
A clear candidate has yet to emerge within the reformists. Some have mentioned Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, though he later said he wouldn’t run after a scandal over a leaked recording in which he offered frank criticism of the Guard.
At the same time Larijani registered, so too did Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, the eldest son of the late former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, a member of Tehran’s city council, has been described as a reformist by political commentators.
Iran’s former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also registered Wednesday. Though his attempt to run in 2017 ultimately was blocked after Khamenei criticized Ahmadinejad, this year the supreme leader has not warned him off.
The Guardian Council will announce a final list of candidates by May 27, and a 20-day campaign season begins the following day.