Campaigning has begun for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against Principlists who criticize his handling of the economy.
Rouhani’s main rivals in the race appear to be Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi, a senior cleric who heads a major charity organization, as well as Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.
Rouhani’s deputy Es’haq Jahangiri as well as two more low-key candidates are the other contenders who had their qualifications approved by the Guardian Council, Iran’s top vetting body.
They were among more than more than 1,600 hopefuls who registered to run for president. The voting will be held on May 19 when Iranians will also choose the city and village councilors.
The Interior Ministry announced the list of the qualified candidates late Thursday night after receiving it from the Guardian Council, effectively allowing them to launch their election campaigns.
Key figures disqualified by the council were former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his deputy Hamid Baqaei.
Several lawsuits have been brought against both men over administrative violations during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has said.
The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, prompting criticism by Rouhani and other candidates.
Rouhani narrowly won the election last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided Principlist camp.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later.
This time around, Raeisi has emerged as a front-runner for the Principlists. He runs a religious foundation in the holy city of Mashhad, which takes care of the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia Muslisms.
Qalibaf came second to Rouhani in 2013. He is a war veteran, former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander and police chief.
The other two candidates are moderate Reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba and Principlist Mostafa Mirsalim, both veteran office holders since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.