Iranian reformists led by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami endorsed the lone moderate contesting Friday’s presidential election, seeking to mount a credible bid for the presidency after eight years of conservative control.
Khatami threw his weight behind Shiite cleric Hassan Rohani yesterday after Mohammad Reza Aref, the sole reformist candidate approved by Iran’s Guardian Council, but seen as lackluster with scant public following, withdrew on Monday night.
The reformists’ backing of Rohani, a former chief nuclear negotiator known for his centrist and conciliatory approach, is a clear effort to attract the votes of those Iranians hoping for greater freedoms and an end to Iran’s diplomatic isolation.
Aref cited a request from Khatami in leaving a field of candidates dominated by conservative hardliners close to clerical supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who strongly influences the vetting decisions of the Guardian Council.
“With the heavy responsibility I have for the country and the fate of the people, I will give my vote to my dear brother Doctor Rohani,” Khatami said in a statement on his Web site.
There are now six men on the presidential slate, mostly Khamenei loyalists separated by only shades of difference on major policy issues such as Iran’s standoff with the West over its disputed nuclear program.
Most key Iranian policies that concern the world, such as its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels trying to overthrow him, are decided by Khamenei.
However, the Iranian president does exert indirect influence on broader policy, generally runs domestic affairs especially the economy of the oil-producing giant and is the highest-ranking public face of the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei, the most powerful person in Iran, has not publicly endorsed any candidate and insists he has only one vote in the election.
Khatami had first supported Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, but the pragmatic former president’s candidacy was rejected by the Guardian Council last month, a move widely interpreted as meant to prevent a powerful challenger to Khamenei from taking office.
Friday’s presidential vote will be Iran’s first since 2009, when two reformist candidates called Iranaian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election fraudulent, unleashing months of popular protests that were eventually crushed by security forces.
The candidate, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have been held under house arrest for more than two years, and reformists have been largely sidelined from power, with conservatives dominating Iran’s parliament, presidency and other major state bodies.