The outspoken second deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament (Majles), Ali Motahari, announced on Friday, May 3, that he might run for the presidency in 2021.
A day earlier, his brother-in-law and the speaker of Majlis, Ali Larijani, had insisted that he would not throw his hat into the ring.
Unofficial campaigning and nominations for presidential elections in Iran usually start even two years before voting takes place.
Speaking to the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Motahari said that "a lot of people" have "asked" him to nominate himself for the next presidential election.
Nonetheless, Motahari added that his final decision on candidacy will depend on the conditions and the line-up of the presidential hopefuls in 2021.
"We should consider the situation and conditions and see who are the candidates; and whether they have supporters and can garner votes---Let's say, if I felt that I had the people's vote, while nobody else had it, I might run," Motahari asserted.
Referring to the possibility of running as an independent presidential candidate, Tehran's representative to Majles, who is considered as a "loose cannon" among the conservatives, maintained, "I am neither an orthodox conservative, nor a reformist, but, literally speaking, I am a conservative, and a reformist, at the same time."
Elaborating further, Motahari said, "While my position on cultural affairs exhilarates the conservatives, my position on freedom of expression as well as on social and political issues is leaning towards the reformists."
Motahari's description of himself was more or less accurate as he has usually annoyed reform-minded young people with his hardliner fundamentalist views on matters such as hijab, and at the same time annoyed conservatives by demanding changes in the traditional approach of Iranian political system.
Motahari, 61, is the son of a renowned Islamic scholar, the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a favorite disciple of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Motahari, the son, published several open letters in the 1990s lambasting the policies of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his reformist successor, Mohammad Khatami.
While considered as a prominent member of the conservative faction of the Majles, he never shied away from attacking his fellow hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013).
Furthermore, Motahari has repeatedly criticized keeping the leaders of Iran Green Movement under house arrest, calling for their release, while his fellow conservatives and close allies of the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insist on continuing the incarceration. He has also expressed views that normally more open-minded “reformists” champion, such as freedom of expression.
In the meantime, Motahari has also repeatedly supported compulsory hijab and Islamic dress code, as well as the Islamic right of men to have more than one wife.
Motahari's brother-in-law and the speaker of Majlis, Ali Larijani said on Thursday that he would not run for the presidency. However, potential candidates change their minds several times or pretend so before making their final decision. This is also a way of assessing their popularity with the public.
Speculation on presidential candidates in Iran is heating up at a time that several political figures and analysts believe that the turnout in the next presidential election will be significantly less than before.
In a recent meeting, former President Mohammad Khatami warned that in the absence of reforms, convincing people to come forward and vote in the next elections would be a tough undertaking.
Khatami, who served as president for eight years (1997-2005), was speaking to the reformist faction of Majles on March 6.
"Today, it is very difficult to call the people to come forward and vote again. Do you think people will listen to you and me again and participate in the next elections," Khatami asked, and immediately responded, "I believe it is unlikely unless we witness evolution in the coming year."
In remarks reflected on a Telegram account attributed to him, Khatami described the current condition of Iran as "despondent" and stressed that the Islamic Republic's governing system "should be reformed and become flexible."
However, even the reformists' chance for winning the presidential election is questionable. "Reformists, Conservatives, your time is over," was one of the main slogans chanted during massive rallies and demonstrations that shuddered the Islamic Republic for weeks in late 2017 and early 2018.