2017 Presidential Race: from Zarif’s Candidacy to Ahmadinejad’s Withdrawal
Reports have emerged that a number of high-profile clerics have been trying to persuade Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif to run for presidents, if pressures on Rouhani continue to escalate, Entekhab reported last Saturday.
Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian, known for his advocacy of moderation and his long-standing feud with Principlist Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, has revealed in an interview with Entekhab.com, Reformist online outlet, that a number of religious scholars, seminary teachers, and moderate clerics in Qom believe that Zarif should run if pressures on Rouhani continue to escalate, even though Rouhani is their first candidate.
“We are now negotiating with Zarif to see if he agrees. He has not accepted it yet, saying he will not run, but there is a lot of insistence for him to do,” Gharavian said, stressing that to moderates, Zarif is only a prospect after President Rouhani.
Yet a day earlier, Entekhab had published a separate interview with MP Gholam-Ali Jafarzadeh, representing Rasht in the Majlis, in which he said Mr. Rouhani was the best option available to Reformists, Principlists, and the whole nation. “We should all help Rouhani become reelected,” said the member of the Principlist Rahrovan-e-Velayet (Followers of Leader) bloc.
Of all the post-Revolution administrations, sitting is the one most abiding by what the leader says and wants, he added.
Since the nuclear deal, Zarif’s popularity has surged to one a national hero, even comparable with the likes Mohmmad Mosaddegh. This has prompted speculations that he may be running in the 2017 presidential election. However, he has repeatedly denied any interest in or expertise for the Pasteur Street office.
In early March, he appeared as guest on a popular Iranian talk show, streamed online on Aparat.com, to discuss miscellaneous issues.
“I will definitely not run for president because my current job is the only thing I know how to do. I am an expert in international relations. As you know, I am one of a handful of individuals who had studied in the major and joined the foreign ministry early after the Revolution,” Zarif told host Reza Rashidpour once he brought up the question of his possible candidacy.
But what if Zarif’s nomination is meant to counter rival bids?
Yet remains the question of ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one the favorite son of the Principlist camp.
Khabar Online reported last week that Ahmadinejad has sent Principlists a message, via a liaison, urging them to stop his defamation and back instead as he could win a majority of ballots in certain parts of the country. He has apparently pledged he will withdraw in favor of the Principlists’ candidate. Khabar Online adds that the camp does not trust him, saying the message could be seen as a trick Ahmadinejad is using to leverage the endorsement of his qualification by the Guardian Council.
In Jafarzadeh’s judgment, Ahmadinejad has given a black eye to the Principlist camp more than any other group and that the latter will have to continue to suffer his blows in the future, too. When asked about reports that Ahmadinejad has signaled to Principlists that he will withdraw in their favor in the eleventh hour, Jafarzadeh dismissed them as lies, saying the strategy does not jibe with Ahmadinejad’s character. He continued to call on fellow Principlists to make their final decision about him and tell people he does not represent the faction.
Shargh Daily had seen this coming to months ago, suggesting that the Principlists will use a combination of their electoral tactics in 2001 and 2005. While trying to defame the potential winner, in this case Hassan Rouhani, they will provide space for Ahmadinejad to manipulate his voter base at the right moment. “Even if they give Ahmadinejad all the greens but disqualify or make him withdraw in the eleventh hour, they have nothing to lose. Ahmadinejad elimination does not mean a complete eradication of his voter base,” Shargh wrote on July 11.
Some prominent Principlist figures have already dismissed Ahmadinejad’s candidacy. Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghaddam, a member of conservative Combatant Clergy Association, is assured that the Guardian Council will disqualify him. Ex-Deputy Speaker Mohammadreza Bahonar has also advised him not to run.
However, Rouhollah Hosseinian, security advisor to Ahmadinejad and a member of the hardliner Paydari front, says Ahmadinejad will break ballot records in the 2017 presidential race. He told Shargh in an interview published this week that the Principlists have no other options and Ahmadinejad will be gradually persuaded to run.