Iran approves hardliner for presidential polls, bars several hopefuls

FILE PHOTO: Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iran, shows his identification document as he registers as a candidate for the presidential election at the Interior Ministry, in Tehran, Iran May 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/ WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran's election watchdog has approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in next month's presidential election, state TV said on Tuesday, while disqualifying some of his main rivals including former parliament speaker Ali Larijani.

The move is likely to boost the prospects of Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it may further dent the clerical rulers' hopes of a high turnout in the June 18 vote, amid rising discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions.

As well as Larijani, a moderate conservative, the hardline-led Guardian Council barred populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and pragmatist First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, an ally of the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani and his moderate allies have blamed most of Iran's economic woes on U.S. sanctions and given top priority to talks aimed at reviving Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which former U.S. president Donald Trump quit.

Conservative and hardline allies of Khamenei have placed the responsibility squarely on the government, and insisted that Washington cannot be trusted to fulfil any accord.

The Council approved just seven candidates out of 40 who met its basic criteria - in turn a small fraction of the 600 who had registered.

They included former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a conservative; former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaei, a frequent presidential candidate; and current Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, a low-profile moderate.

In a statement carried by local media, Rouhani's ally Jahangiri said: "The disqualification of many qualified people (is) a serious threat to public participation and fair competition among political tendencies, especially reformists."

Even Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications.

"Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, ... I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory," Raisi said on Twitter.

Larijani, who had voiced support for the nuclear deal and talks to revive it, accepted the Council's ruling, tweeting: "Now that the election process has been conducted in this way, I have done my duty before God and my dear nation."

In a speech in parliament carried by local media, lawmaker Ahmad Alirezabeigi blasted Ahmadinejad's disqualification and said security forces had surrounded the populist leader's home, even though he had urged his supporters to remain calm.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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