Teheran mayor could be sole challenger for presidency
TEHERAN: The charismatic 55year-old mayor of this city seems a long-shot contender for Iran’s presidency, but could emerge as the main threat to President Hassan Rouhani if he beats other hardliners to emerge as the sole challenger in a second round.
A chisel-jawed former Revolutionary Guards commander with an action man persona, an airline pilot’s licence and a populist economic message, Baqer Qalibaf had defied the ulama establishment by refusing to drop out before the
May 19 vote.
In the last election four years ago, Qalibaf nearly made it to the runoff, despite placing a distant second to Rouhani with 16.5 per cent of the vote.
Rouhani, who promised to reduce Iran’s international isolation and grant more freedom at home, averted a second round by winning just over 50 per cent.
Establishment hardliners who want to unseat Rouhani are placing their trust in Ebrahim Raisi, a jurist and ulama, who studied under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
They are not happy that Qalibaf is standing again and splitting the anti-Rouhani vote.
“Qalibaf ’s decision to remain in the race represents a risk for him and the establishment,” said an official, who asked not to be identified. “It will divide hardliners’ votes and endanger his future career, as he has ignored influential hardliners’ call to step down.”
Still, with his own record of drawing millions of voters, Qalibaf may be hoping he can beat Raisi in the first round to face Rouhani in the run-off a week later, which would force conservatives to rally behind him.
A similar path carried a previous populist Teheran mayor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, to the presidency in 2005, despite never quite dispelling the discomfort of the establishment. Reuters