A top military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader announced his withdrawal on Monday from next month’s presidential elections, endorsing judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a prime contender to become Iran’s next president.
Hossein Dehghan, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who served as defense minister during President Hassan Rouhani's first term (2013-2017), said on Twitter he is backing Raisi, whom he described as the “revolution’s candidate.”
Dehghan is the most prominent candidate yet to quit the presidential race. Former Sports Minister Mohammad Abbasi and former Telecoms Minister Mohammad Hossein Nami had also quit the race in favour of Raisi.
Raisi is a prominent cleric who is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He was appointed head of the judiciary by the supreme leader in 2019.
Raisi appears to be the consensus candidate of Iranian conservatives in the June 18 elections.
The 60-year-old ran for president in 2017, losing to incumbent President Rouhani, who cannot run this time around due to term limits.
A second unsuccessful run could prove fatal to Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei.
Raisi’s name is tied to Iran’s mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s. He was allegedly a leading member of what came to be known as the “death committee,” a group of Iranian judiciary and security officials put together by former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 to oversee the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners at the time.
Other prominent presidential hopefuls include former speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, current vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
All candidates have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, an unelected body responsible for overseeing elections. The council is expected to announce the final list of approved candidates on Tuesday, after which campaigning begins.
Larijani, a supporter of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, is expected to be Raisi’s main rival in the race.
Ahmadinejad, who has rebranded himself a critic of the establishment over the past few years, is expected to be barred from running again – just like he was in 2017.
The populist ex-president has said he will boycott the elections if he is not allowed to run.
The Guardian Council is seen by some as a tool for Khamenei to control elections, as half of the 12-member vetting body are appointed by him.
Elections in Iran “fall short of democratic standards due in part to the influence of the hard-line Guardian Council, an unelected body that disqualifies all candidates it deems insufficiently loyal to the clerical establishment,” US democracy watchdog group Freedom House said in its Iran report for 2021.