Prospective candidates on Tuesday started registering for Iran’s presidential election in June in the capital Tehran, with both reformists and conservatives set to field their top picks.
The registration process began amid COVID-19 restrictions, with many familiar and unfamiliar faces filing their nominations for the upcoming vote.
Among the key contenders who registered on Tuesday was former military official Saeed Mohammad, who was seen at a registration center in Tehran with his supporters.
Mohammad told reporters that he was contesting as an independent, apparently after failing to convince conservatives to field him as their consensus candidate.
However, the most important development that is likely to dissuade many potential conservative candidates from jumping the bandwagon is the candidature of Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi, who is expected to register in the coming days, according to reports.
Raeisi, who was incumbent President Hassan Rouhani's main challenger in 2017, has been under pressure from the conservatives to contest the polls as their top choice, despite his initial reluctance.
Registration for the election will continue for five days, after which the candidates will be screened by the country's top vetting body, the Guardian Council. Most of the hopefuls are likely to face rejection.
This year's election comes at a critical juncture with Iran and world powers engaged in diplomatic negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, beside back-channel diplomacy underway to smoothen ties with estranged neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.
According to observers, conservatives are well positioned to seize power from reformists. Conservatives have not been particularly optimistic about direct or indirect talks with the US.
Importantly, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called for high turnout, while encouraging new and young leaders to run for the coveted chair. He has not publicly backed any candidate though.
Among other key candidates who have previously announced their bid for presidency and are expected to file nominations in coming days include former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaei, former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, former Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahhiri among others.
There has been intense speculation about Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's candidature, with a coalition of reformists pitching him as their top choice. However, the top diplomat has so far resisted calls and showed no inclination.
- Tiff over criteria
All eyes are now on the vetting process by the Guardian Council that will begin once the five-day registration ends, with many candidates likely to face disqualification.
The days leading up to registration have been dominated by public debate between the Guardian Council and Rouhani's office, after the former announced a new set for criteria for the presidential hopefuls.
Rouhani on Sunday directed the Interior Ministry, which conducts the election, to disregard the Guardian Council's fresh guidelines, saying it goes against the legal covenants of the country.
According to the new guidelines, the candidate must be between 40 and 75 years of age, must possess a master's degree or its equivalent, must have at least a 4-year experience of management in state organizations, or should have served as a minister, or governor of cities with two-plus million population, or been a top commander of the armed forces with the rank of major general or higher. Hopefuls should also not have any criminal record or jail history.
Some reformist and conservative figures have felt uncomfortable with the new criteria set by the Guardian Council.
Reformists say the age bar and educational qualification would prevent Rouhani's Telecom Minister Azari Jahromi, one of the reformist names in the reckoning, from jumping into the fray.
At the same time, the qualification of another reformist candidate Mostafa Tajzade would be under the cloud if previous criminal record is considered in vetting. He spent seven years in jail following the 2009 election controversy.
On the other hand, Saeed Mohammad, an independent candidate with a rank of Brig. General, does not meet the criteria of top military general, and could face rejection in the vetting process if the new guidelines are followed.
The Guardian Council, which reports directly to the Supreme Leader, has maintained that the new guidelines are "binding to all".