Iran’s Rouhani registers to run for re-election

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the driving force behind a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, registered on Friday to run for re-election next month, state television footage showed.

The politically moderate cleric faces a tougher than expected battle for a second term on May 19 as criticism mounts over the continued stagnation of the economy.

The president appeared in the afternoon at the interior ministry, where registration to stand for the election runs until Saturday.

He has made much of his successes in controlling inflation and reaching a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

“In every aspect that you consider, figures tell us that after the (nuclear deal), there is more space for movement and progress,” he told reporters last week.

Rouhani’s support among moderate and reformist lawmakers remains solid, but disappointment with the 68-year-old’s administration is palpable on the streets.

Unemployment is stuck at 12 percent, the promised billions in foreign investment have not materialised, and he has failed to ease social restrictions or release political prisoners, including opposition figures held under house arrest for their part in 2009 protests.

The conservative opposition remains divided, but attention has lately focused on hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who runs the powerful Imam Reza charitable foundation.

Raisi has emphasised his concern for the poor, and is seen as a close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Also, in a surprise move earlier this week, the country’s controversial former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered to run, contradicting a recommendation from the nation’s supreme leader that he stay out of the race.

Ahmadinejad previously said he wasn’t going to run after Khamenei advised him not to, saying he would instead support his former deputy Hamid Baghaei who also registered on Wednesday.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and his close ally Hamid Baghaei flash the victory sign as they arrive at the Interior Ministry to register their candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Many hard-liners in Iran seek a tough-talking candidate to rally around who can stand up to US President Donald Trump. But Ahmadinejad’s candidacy could expose the fissures inside Iranian politics that linger since his contested 2009 re-election, which brought massive unrest.

Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure, even among fellow hard-liners

The conservative-controlled Guardian Council will vet the hundreds of registered hopefuls over the coming week, before releasing a final list of candidates.

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