While Iranian conservatives are doing their best to form a coalition ahead of the upcoming May 19 presidential elections, parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has thrown his weight behind moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election.
During recent months, conservatives have called on most of the prominent conservative figures and parties to put aside their differences and reach a consensus over a single candidate for the elections. Many conservatives say that the presence of more than one candidate will result in Rouhani’s re-election, given that several conservative figures ran for office in the 2013 vote.
Larijani, as one of the conservative figures who has strongly supported Rouhani during his presidency, has gradually distanced himself from the conservative camp, which is now controlled by hard-liners, and he has joined the moderation camp as one of its prominent figures. While some expected Larijani to join the conservative coalition — the Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces, or JAMNA — formed late last year, he did not.
In a press conference March 13, when asked about his coalition with Rouhani, Larijani said, “I’m a comrade of Mr. Rouhani.” He continued, “However, I don’t intend to have any role in the election.”
In response to a question about his decision not to join the conservative coalition, Larijani said, “The Principlists haven’t told me [anything about the coalition]. [However], I thank them because if they had asked [for my presence] I wouldn’t have any time to go there.” In this vein, Behrouz Nemati, a moderate parliament member close to Larijani, said March 12 that the parliament speaker has not joined the conservative coalition, as its members are the same hard-liners who threw shoes at him in Qom in February 2013. Nemati also stated that there is an unwritten coalition between Larijani and Rouhani.
Nevertheless, based on Larijani’s statements, it seems like he has a full interest in seeing Rouhani re-elected in May. In this vein, his decision to refrain from joining the conservative coalition can be seen as tantamount to support for the moderate incumbent.
Of further note, Rouhani has been selected as the only candidate of the Reformists for the election by the Electoral Supreme Council of Reformists for Policymaking, headed by Mohammad-Reza Aref, who was the sole candidate of the Reformists in the 2013 presidential elections but in the final days ahead of that vote withdrew in favor of Rouhani.
Moreover, in reaction to the possible candidacy of conservative Ebrahim Raisi, Larijani said, “There is no need for Mr. Raisi to resign from the custodianship of the holy shrine of Imam Reza,. I don’t have any analysis about his nomination. It is good and will cause excitement [among voters].”
Of note, Raisi is one of the possible candidates of the conservatives, as he obtained the majority of votes in the internal election held by JAMNA. He is believed to still be harboring doubts about his nomination, but his entering the field would probably bring fellow conservative candidates behind him.
In other comments, answering a question about the nuclear deal and US President Donald Trump’s recent statements on it, Larijani said, “[Reaching] the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] was a right decision and had some benefits for us.” Moreover, in reaction to a question about Trump’s regional policies, he stated, “It is better if Trump and his colleagues don’t repeat the past mistakes of [the United States] and be careful about how to behave in the region and take the defeat of their previous war-mongering into account.” He added, “To counter terrorists, they shouldn’t step forward barefoot. Rather, they should adopt a correct and wise approach.”
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