Iran Infighting Turns Election Into Real Contest
Iran’s ruling theocracy was unable to overcome its notorious infighting and unite behind a single candidate in Friday’s presidential election, which has suddenly boosted the prospects of the lone moderate in the race and rekindled interest among some who had planned to boycott.
A cleric and former nuclear negotiator with only modest reform credentials, Hassan Rowhani stirred little enthusiasm when he announced his candidacy in April. Even when he was one of only two centrists to survive the vetting of the conservative, cleric-controlled Guardian Council, he was given little chance of drawing more than a sliver of the vote.
But with the withdrawal earlier this week of Mohammad Reza Aref, the only other candidate not thoroughly beholden to the religious hierarchy under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rowhani is now seen as having a shot at emerging high enough in the six-candidate field to advance to a June 21 runoff.
Aref, a Stanford-educated academic who was vice president under former President Mohammad Khatami, dropped his presidential bid at Khatami’s urging to strengthen Rowhani’s chances and give voters tired of Iran’s ravaged economy and international isolation a viable alternative to the status quo.