Te­heran mayor could be sole chal­lenger for pres­i­dency

New Straits Times - - World -

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

Baqer Qal­ibaf

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