Rouhani, rival to run in Iran's presidential election, Ahmadinejad barred


UPDATE 1-Rouhani, rival to run in Iran's presidential election, Ahmadinejad barred

(Adds background)
    BEIRUT, April 20 (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani and hardline rival Ebrahim Raisi were both approved to
run in May's presidential election by a government vetting body,
while former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was disqualified,
state media reported on Thursday.
    The approval of Rouhani, a moderate, and Raisi, a political
hardliner thought to have the backing of Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sets up a showdown between rival
political camps.
    Khamenei had advised Ahmadinejad not to run and his attempt
to register as a candidate was widely seen as a public snub to
the Supreme Leader, which is nearly unheard of in the Islamic
    The disqualification of Ahmadinejad, a two-term president,
draws attention to the criteria that the Guardian Council, the
governmental body which vets candidates, uses in the selection
    Khamenei appoints half of the members of the Guardian
Council and, by disqualifying Ahmadinejad, the body runs the
risk of being seen as a rubber stamp for the Supreme Leader, who
is the highest authority in the country.
    Rouhani and Raisi will likely face off on the issue of the
economy as well as the nuclear deal signed with Western powers,
which Rouhani has highlighted as his signature achievement
during the past four years in office.
    Iran agreed to curb portions of its nuclear program in
exchange for the lifting of several sanctions as part of the
    Political hardliners see the deal as a form of capitulation
and are wary of the opening it presents for Western companies to
work in the Islamic Republic.
    In recent days, Raisi, who was appointed by Khamenei to be
the head of a multi-billion dollar religious foundation last
year, has repeatedly blasted Rouhani's economic performance.
    Khamenei has also criticized Rouhani's economic performance
in recent speeches and called on the government to do more to
address the issue of unemployment.
    About 3.2 million Iranian are jobless out of a total
population of 80 million.
    Rouhani has claimed that inflation has decreased and the
economy has grown on his watch. He has also said in recent
public appearances that the judiciary and security forces should
be more mindful of ordinary Iranians' rights and privacy, which
is likely to appeal to his supporters.
    Rouhani was elected in 2013 with a promise to bring about
greater individual freedom and detente with the West. Some of
his supporters now say he has fallen short of those goals.
    Regardless of how the rivalry between Rouhani and Raisi
plays out, top Iranian officials, including Khamenei, have said
they will confront any individuals or groups who attempt to
destabilize the country.
    Iranian police fanned out across Tehran after the names of
the candidates were announced on Thursday night, according to
the news site of the Iranian judiciary Mizan Online.
    Live debates between presidential candidates, a feature in
the last two presidential elections, have also been called off,
according to state media. Pre-taped interviews will air instead,
perhaps to keep candidates from stoking up their supporters.
    Widespread protests broke out and continued for months after
the disputed election of Ahmadinejad in 2009 which led to dozens
of deaths and hundreds of arrests.
    "The bitter incidents of [2009] will not be repeated,"
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on Wednesday,
according to state media.

 (Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Janet Lawrence
and Toby Chopra)


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