Iran's reformist ex-president Khatami says re-elect Rouhani

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region- Iran's presidential frontrunners, conservative Ebrahim Raisi and his moderate opponent Hasan Rouhani have held rival rallies in Kurdish inhabited regions of the country on Sunday less than five days before the elections on May 19.

With President Rouhani's economic record under attack from both Qalibaf and Raisi, the election campaign has grown increasingly bitter and confrontational in the past week.

"A fundamental and crucial decision must be taken for the unity of the revolutionary front", Ghalibaf wrote in a statement.

Unofficial reports say that Raisi is set to introduce Qalibaf as his to-be first vice president. If the current field was reduced to the pair, 48 percent of respondents would vote for Rouhani and 39 percent for Raisi, according to the survey released on May 10. Qalibaf's endorsement may push those so far unexcited by the election into voting for Rouhani, said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group.

"The biggest fear of the conservatives was that Qalibaf may outperform Raisi on Friday, but not be able to pose a serious challenge, let alone beat Rouhani in the run-off", said Hossein Rassam, a former adviser to Britain's Foreign Office.

Karroubi, 80, and fellow reformist Mirhossein Mousavi ran for election in June 2009 and became figureheads for Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote they believed was rigged to bring back hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the nuclear deal struck with world powers and shepherded by Rouhani's administration. Trump, who has called the nuclear deal a "disaster", put Iran "on notice" after it tested a missile test this year, and has pleased the U.S.'s Sunni Gulf Arab allies by vowing to confront growing Iranian influence in the region.

They included Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, Mostafa Hashemitaba, Es'haq Jahangiri, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi and Hassan Rouhani.

The hardliners' message may be contradictory, but their labeling Rouhani and his supporters as elitists, combined with their campaign pledges to provide new monthly unemployment benefits and a public works program to generate jobs for the mostazafin (downtrodden) means the incumbent's re-election isn't certain. It also suggests that Iran's election will be decided in the first round, which requires the victor to get over 50 percent of the total vote. But Rohani's influence is limited and he has less power than Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It is a smart campaign strategy for Rouhani to dangle further talks with the United States with the aim of lifting more sanctions in front of the Iranian public.

  • Jon Douglas