Signs that cleric Ebrahim Raisi to be promoted as main challenger to President Rouhani


UPDATE 0915 GMT: The Supreme Leader has issued one of his regular warnings that “enemies” will try to undermine Iran’s elections.

Ayatollah Khamenei, apparently still unsettled by the mass protests after the disputed Presidential election, told army commanders and staff on Wednesday, “The enemies make provocations to sabotage the elections. The nation should proceed along in the face of the hostile movement, while maintaining its current awareness so the elections will be held with vibrancy, passion, neatness and security.”

He called for high turnout as a “resource” for the Islamic Republic.

The Supreme Leader has frequently tried to snuff out any dissent ahead of Presidential and Parliamentary votes since 2009. Recently a number of media activists have been arrested, causing friction between the Judiciary — which oversaw the detentions — and the Rouhani Government’s Intelligence Minister, who criticized the imprisonments.

Both President Hassan Rouhani and his main challenger, principlist cleric Ebrahim Raisi, have begun their campaigns for the May 19 election.

Rouhani, the centrist who has held office since 2013, took advantage of the ceremonies of Army Day to present his leadership and declare Iran’s strength:

Our Armed Forces will not be a threat to others….We move in the direction of avoiding confrontations and tensions; however, we should always maintain our alertness against conspiracies by others and should enhance our deterrent power day by day.

More interesting was his veiled message to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that they not intervene in the election, through his emphasis on the Guards’ vital role in Iranian security rather than financial and political matters.

The message has fed rumors that Rouhani has met the Supreme Leader to get assurances that the IRGC will not try to influence the result, as it did in the disputed 2009 Presidential election.

Meanwhile, Raisi was prominently featured in his first speech, framing his challenge to Rouhani over the economic situation in Iran.

He told a meeting of entrepreneurs and businessmen, “If our economy is not fragile, structures would be amended and we would become resistant against sanctions and threats and people’s business would boom. A strong economic management has the first word in this regard.”

Raisi challenged growth, production, and job creation as insufficient and, in a refrain of the Supreme Leader’s declaration, said Iranian youth can solve many of the country’s problems. He also invoked Ayatollah Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy”, saying the Rouhani Government had failed to make use of a capacity that would lead to “independence”.

Coverage of Raisi in both Persian- and English-language media pointed to a concerted effort to build him up as the alternative to Rouhani, despite several high-profile conservative and hardline hopefuls. The cleric, who heads the influential religious organization Astan Qods Razavi, had complained that State broadcasting and press was giving too much attention to Rouhani.

Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf tried to maintain a central position with a promise that he would create “five million jobs” and more than double national income. He said that he would change Iran’s tax system and “implement a comprehensive and detailed plan for solving the urgent problems of low-income people”.

Ghalibaf finished second to Raisi in a vote of the new conservative-hardline bloc Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces; however, the Front said last week that it has not made a final decision on which candidate to support.

Two other conservative and hardline candidates, former nuclear negotiatior Saeed Jalili and MP Mehrdad Bazrpash dropped out of the race.

The withdrawals pointed to a possible effort to unify behind a single opponent to Rouhani. In 2013, four conservative-hardline candidates — Jalili, Qalibaf, the Supreme Leader’s top aide Ali Akbar Velayati, and senior official Mohsen Rezaie — split votes to help give Rouhani a surprise first-round victory.

Bazrpash had been one of the five finalists in the Popular Front’s vote earlier this month.

TOP PHOTO: Cleric Ebrahim Raisi opens his Presidential campaign on Monday

Trump Administration Confirms Iran Adhering to 2015 Nuclear Deal

The Trump Administration has certified that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear agreement with the 5+1 Powers.

The certification means that the US will extend relief from some sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

However, the Administration couched the confirmation, 90 minutes before a deadline, under the headline, “Iran Continues to Sponsor Terrorism”.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, writing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, reinforced the message, “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods.” He said an inter-agency review of the nuclear deal will evaluation if ongoing suspension of the sanctions “is vital to the national security interests of the United States”.