TEHERAN (AFP) - Two of Iran's political heavy-hitters, ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi and moderate conservative Ali Larijani, launched on Saturday (May 15) what may be the main battle for next month's presidential election.
Iranians are due to elect a successor to moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, on June 18.
First to throw down the gauntlet Saturday was Mr Larijani, a long-time Parliament speaker and now advisor to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, submitting his name at the interior ministry early on the final day of registration.
Judiciary chief and one-time presidential hopeful Mr Raisi announced his candidacy in a statement, before appearing at the ministry to sign up.
Sources close to the two had for weeks given media contradictory remarks, fuelling an intense debate on whether they would run.
Former judge Raisi was the leading rival to Mr Rouhani in the 2017 election, and is seen as the main figure for the conservative camp this year.
Mr Larijani threw the first jab at Mr Raisi and at several other candidates with military backgrounds in a press conference after registration.
"The economy is neither a garrison nor a court that would be managed with shouts and orders," he told reporters.
He said he had put his name into the race because he felt "that Iran is in a condition that those who are on this path (of presidency) cannot solve the country's main economic problem".
Mr Larijani is a supporter of the 2015 nuclear deal, which offered Iran a relief from sanctions, in return to limitations on its nuclear activities. The deal has been on life-support since former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from it in 2018, and reimposed punishing sanctions on Teheran.
Singling out the economy as Iran's main issue, Mr Larijani accused anyone of "promising paradise in this complicated state" that the country is going through of "speaking falsely".
In his statement, Mr Raisi said he came forward over intense "public demand," and aims to run "independently in order to bring about a change in the executive management of the country".
He also vowed to wage "a relentless fight against poverty and corruption, humiliation and discrimination," the main slogans of his campaign four years ago.
Mr Raisi bears the title of Hojjat al-Islam, which is a rank under Ayatollah in the Shiite cleric hierarchy.
The two main coalitions of conservative and ultra-conservative factions had already announced their support for Mr Raisi.
Several prominent conservative figures, such as Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, had reportedly said they would stay out of the race if Mr Raisi ran.
Mr Raisi was appointed by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to take over the judiciary leadership in 2019 from Mr Sadegh Amoli Larijani, brother to Mr Ali Larijani.
This is Mr Larijani's second run for the presidency.
He ran in 2005, which saw a surprise victory by the ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who has also put his name in to run as well.
Seen today as a prominent establishment figure, Mr Larijani was at the time in charge of Iran's nuclear negotiations with the West, a post he resigned from two years later over serious disagreements with Mr Ahmadinejad.
He then went on to be Parliament speaker from 2008 to 2020.
Mr Larijani proved to be one of the key allies of Mr Rouhani, who was elected on a platform of ending Iran's international isolation by reaching the nuclear agreement in 2015.
His candidacy comes as Iran and world powers are engaged in talks in Vienna, seeking to revive the deal.
"I hope the negotiations produce results (as) it can provide a breathing space for the country's economy," Mr Larijani said.
He also called for "smart relations with the West, strong and constructive relations with the East, and brotherly relations with our neighbours".
The nuclear accord has been a constant target of criticism by Mr Rouhani's opponents, and its fate is expected to one of the major stakes in the 2021 poll.
Since registration to run in the election began Tuesday, dozens of hopefuls have submitted bids to stand.
Their names will be vetted by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, who will publish a list of approved candidates by May 27, after which campaigning begins.