Principlist Coalition Resolved to Dump Rouhani: What We Know about PFRF’s Second Forum
(Former speaker of parlliament Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel (right) and Chairman of Tehran City Council Mehdi Chamran (left) in today's PFRF convention. Foad Ashtari/Tasnim)
Mashhad Mayor Sowlat Mortazavi told reporters here on Thursday that Ebrahim Raisi, the official custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, has accepted the Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces’ call to run for office in the upcoming presidential election. The news came minutes ahead of the second forum held by the PFRF, Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces, a trans-partisan bottom-up democratic convention aiming to broker a mechanism for the Principlists to agree on presidential candidate(s).
On Wednesday, unsubstantiated reports made the rounds on cyberspace, saying Ebrahim Raisi has resigned from a panel in charge of supervising the election, a strong signal that he had made his decision to run. The law mandates members to resign, if they wish to run for office. Raisi’s resignation was officially approved in the panel’s meeting on Thursday.
The Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces has required its hopefuls to sign an agreement to withdraw from the election in favor of the candidate finally elected by the forum. However, as the pro-reform website Entekhab has noted in separate reports published this week, not all the candidates go along with the mechanism.
Former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who finished third in the 2013 presidential race, is a key player who has not accepted the PFRF mechanism. Jalili was shortlisted in the front’s first forum as a candidate from the hardliner Paydari Front, prompting protests by Paydari and Jalili both. According to Entekhab, Jalili has met head of PFRF central council Mohammad-Hassan Rahimian on Tuesday, relaying his decision not to comply with the Front’s one and only condition of withdrawal. The front has eliminated his name from its polls for today’s forum in response.
One of the most anticipated hopefuls, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf who had previously criticized PFRF for what he called tribalism is now out of the game. After standing months of attacks over corruption in the Municipality, Qalibaf announced in a statement yesterday that he has no decision to run but he will spare no effort to help the ‘fittest’ candidate to compete with sitting President Hassan Rouhani. Various analysts have noted that it could be a gesture, implying support for Raisi in return for a proposed vice presidency. However, he declined to drop a mention of the PFRF or its mechanism.
In contrast, one of the candidates who had announced their withdrawal is back on the scene. Parviz Fattah, director of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF), was placed in the forum’s first 14-man shortlist. Soon after, the IKRF’s public relations department issued a statement thanking the ‘brothers and sisters’ in the front, saying Fattah considered serving the underprivileged and poor as the greatest divine grace and would not run for office.
Even Ebrahim Raisi, hailed as the only Principlist who could defeat Rouhani, has his own premise of doubt. According to an Entekhab story, the 56-year old cleric has declined to sign the PFRF agreement and proposed his own version of the covenant. As the article suggests, aware of the divisions among key players in the Front and that protests will begin after certain hopefuls are eliminated, Hojjatoleslam Raisi is now closer to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of the Paydari front, who backed former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 and 2009 elections. In a meeting held almost 3 months ago, Mesbah has reportedly called on Raisi to run, suggesting he should not pay too much attention to coalitions but rely on his own person. Hossein-ali Haji-Deligani, a member of the Paydari Front, previously told Entekhab that it was Mesbah’s idea to go after Ebrahim Raisi and persuade him to run.
In a meeting with Islamic Coalition Party members, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi had stated that he could not trust promises made by others or accept coalitions because he should stand before God and justify his actions. The Islamic Coalition Party (ICP), backing Mostafa Mirsalim in the run-up, has recently sent ambiguous signals about his candidacy, sparking concerns that the Party may split ways with PFRF too.
Leading today’s poll by a large margin, Ebrahim Raisi seems to have left the PFRF with no choice but to back him at the end of the day.
Today’s forum was originally intended to reach five final candidates but Entekhab has reported that this may be reduced to three. The pro-reform outlet quotes PFRF central council member Parviz Sorouri that the council has not reach a conclusion in this regard.