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Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Qalibaf tipped as top presidential candidate

The hard-liner reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against Iranian students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf registered his name as candidate for the June 28 presidential election (AP)
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf registered his name as candidate for the June 28 presidential election (AP) (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran’s hard-line parliament speaker, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, emerged as the most prominent candidate from within the country’s Shiite theocracy in the race for the June 28 presidential election.

Monday marked the last day of registration for the contest to replace Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash with seven others on May 19.

The entry of Mr Qalibaf, a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, catapulted him to the front of the bevvy of candidates, just a day after hard-line former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also registered his bid for the presidency.

The hardliner is aiming to replace Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month (AP)
The hardliner is aiming to replace Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month (AP) (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech on Monday, alluding to qualities that Mr Qalibaf himself has highlighted, potentially signalling his support for the speaker.

Many, however, know Mr Qalibaf as a Revolutionary Guard general who was part of a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999.

He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against Iranian students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.

Mr Qalibaf ran unsuccessfully for president in 2005 and 2013. He withdrew from the 2017 presidential campaign.

Mr Qalibaf, 62, registered his candidacy with the Interior Ministry in front of a crowd of journalists. Speaking to the media, he said he would continue on the same path as Mr Raisi and the late Guard General Qassem Soleimani, a figure revered by many in Iran after his 2020 killing in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

Mr Qalibaf insisted he would not allow “another round of mismanagement” to happen in the country and mentioned poverty and price pressures affecting Iranians as the country strains under international sanctions.

“If I didn’t register, the work we have started for resolving economic issues of the people in the popular government (of Raisi) and the revolutionary parliament, and is now at the stage of fruition, would remain unfinished,” Mr Qalibaf said.

He did not elaborate further and it remains unclear what those plans actually would entail as Iran’s currency, the rial, continues to spiral and again nears 600,000 to the dollar.

The currency was trading at 32,000 rials to the dollar when Tehran signed the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Like other candidates, Mr Qalibaf stayed away from directly discussing the tattered nuclear deal — or the recent comments by officials that Iran potentially could seek the atomic bomb.

Iran’s parliament plays a secondary role in governing the country, though it can intensify pressure on a presidential administration when deciding on the annual budget and other important bills.

Along with Mr Ahmadinejad, another former parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, and former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who also ran in 2021, have also registered for the June balloting.

Eshaq Jahangiri, a former vice president under moderate President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration reached the nuclear deal, has also registered for the race.

Acting President Mohammad Mokhber, who took over after Mr Raisi’s death, apparently did not register, despite being seen with Mr Khamenei in recent  meetings.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said “about 80” hopefuls registered during the five-day registration period.

A 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Mr Khamenei, will decide on a final candidate list by June 12.