Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who analysts say could invigorate and unify conservatives, on April 6 declared his intention to run in the presidential election to be held in Iran on May 19.
Nowadays known as the head of Iran’s wealthiest state charity - but notorious for being a member of the so-called Islamic Revolution death committee that in the 1980s sent thousands of Iranians to their deaths after questioning them about their religious beliefs and political affiliations – the stern-faced cleric could pose a serious threat to moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s bid for a second term of office. Until now, a serious conservative contender was yet to emerge.
It is widely believed Raisi, a 56-year-old religious judge, is held in high esteem by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Based on his tough stances, we can say he’s a hardline figure in line with the centres of power, ranging from the highest authority to the intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)," Paris-based political analyst Morteza Kazemian told RFE/RL.
“The regime wouldn’t allow someone like Raisi to run without wanting him to win,” Sanam Vakil, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House international affairs institute told Bloomberg on April 6. “To risk his credentials on the presidency only makes sense if he is going to survive the electoral process, with reputation and credibility intact,” he added.
There is also speculation that Raisi is being considered by Iran's Assembly of Experts as a possible successor to the elderly Khamenei, a fellow native of second most populous Iranian city Mashad.
Khamenei in 2016 appointed Raisi as custodian of autonomous state charity Astan Ghods Razavi, which, among other activities, administers the Imam Reza Shrine, visited by millions of pilgrims every year.
"As a servant of Astan Quds Razavi, I see the activation of a resistance economy as the only way to end poverty and deprivation in the country," Raisi said in a recent state TV interview, according to RFE/RL.
On April 5, another hardliner, Hamid Baghaei - a former intelligence officer known as a close aide and protégé of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - announced his candidacy for the presidential election, although it is possible the top authorities will not allow him to run.
Rouhani has announced an April 10 news conference at which he is expected to officially launch his reelection bid.
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