Iran's former reformist President Mohammad Khatami endorsed the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani and called on voters to re-elect him for a second term in May 19 presidential elections. Khatami’s announcement was widely distributed on social media, although he has been officially banned from any public or media appearances.
Khatami’s video message called for Rouhani’s reelection as the best way to ensure the "implementation of social and economic justice."
Khatami also asked people to turn out in great numbers in order to prevent “conspiracies”. This can be a veiled reference to the possibility of a hardline candidate to be announced as the winner of the race. Participation or a boycott of the election has also been hotly debated among Iranians. Those who believe the Islamic Republic is incapable of self-correction and real reform, maintain that the elite always finds ways to create interest in the election. High turn-out can be seen as legitimizing the regime, while the election is among candidates approved by the ruling elite.
Khatami praised the accomplishments of Rouhani's administration, which he described as successful despite facing "limitations and problems." However, critics charge that except the nuclear agreement reached with the US and other world powers, Rouhani has achieved very little in expanding freedoms or improving the economy.
Khatami is considered to have played a key role in Rouhani's ascension to the presidency in 2013, apparently convincing reformist challenger Mohammad Reza Aref to step aside.
A few hours after the release of Khatami’s video message, reports by some local news websites mentioned an order by the public prosecutor to prevent its circulation. Khatami’s message was widely distributed on Telegram, a social media service popular in Iran. The official Telegram channel of Rouhani also had initially distributed the message. However, after the reports about the prosecutor’s order, a second review of Rouhani’s Telegram channel by Radio Farda revealed that all video clips from Khatami’s message have been deleted, together with all text references.
Khatami, who served as president from 1997 to 2005, is considered to be the spiritual leader of Iran's reformists, and has a degree of influence among many who demand political and social freedoms.