In Iran, the conservative camp continues to go through a rough patch as its presidential candidates continue to appear unwilling to withdraw in favor of a contender who, according to the camp, has the greatest chance of defeating incumbent moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
Ahead of the May 19 presidential elections, conservatives have tried to put aside their disagreements and form a coalition under the name Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, known by its Persian acronym, JAMNA. They have held two summits in which many names were brought up for nomination in the elections. JAMNA also held a primary of sorts, decreasing the conservative camp’s candidates to five individuals: Ebrahim Raisi, custodian of the holy shrine of the eighth Shiite imam; Alireza Zakani, a former hard-line parliament member; Mehrdad Bazrpash, who served as an official under the administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Tehran mayor; and Hamid Reza Haji Babaie, the minister of education under Ahmadinejad.
Many figures among conservative and hard-liners are in favor of Raisi and are urging other candidates to stand aside in support of him. Prior to his appointment as custodian of the Imam Reza shrine, Raisi held a series of senior positions in the judiciary over the past three decades. However, it seems that some of his fellow conservative candidates aren’t eager to leave the competition. For instance, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former minister of culture during the 1989-1997 presidency of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a member of the Islamic Coalition Party, registered to run in the elections on April 11 and announced that he is not in agreement with JAMNA and will stay in the game. And on April 9, Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party, said that if no consensus is achieved within JAMNA, Mirsalim will not stand aside.
Of note, the conservatives are worried about a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections, which saw Rouhani elected with the backing of the Reformists, and where the conservative camp was hit by disagreements that saw multiple conservative contenders being fielded rather than a single consensus nominee.
At present, the conservatives have started efforts to portray Raisi as the one who has the greatest chance of winning the election. Meanwhile, reports of the appointment of members of the hard-line Endurance Front to key positions in Raisi’s campaign have led to speculations that his chances of winning are decreasing.
The Endurance Front, with Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi as its spiritual head, is known for its hard-line views. The faction does not enjoy broad popular support among supporters, as Mesbah Yazdi does not see many conservatives as genuinely conservative and revolutionary. The representative of Mesbah Yazdi in the 2013 elections was Saeed Jalili, the former head of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, who only obtained 4 million votes against Rouhani, who got 19 million. In keeping with the Endurance Front strategy, Raisi also declared that he has entered the race as an independent. Local media, meanwhile, have quoted Mesbah Yazdi as telling Raisi not to join JAMNA.
In the meantime, despite Ghalibaf’s previous public statement about not intending to run for office a third time — he unsuccessfully launched bids for the presidency in 2005 and 2013 — there are reports emerging about his return to the race. On April 10, Parviz Soroori, a former parliament member close to Ghalibaf, said that the Tehran mayor has not conclusively stepped aside, saying Ghalibaf has no request to join JAMNA.
Moreover, Hossein Ghorbanzadeh, a member of Ghalibaf’s inner circle, has also said that in case of a decision to run in the elections, Ghalibaf would come forward as an independent — a statement that does not appear to be good news for the conservatives or for JAMNA, which would then be at risk of a collapse.