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Reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami has endorsed the moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, for a second term in May 19 presidential election.

“Mr. Rouhani’s defeat would mean an increased possibility of returning to international isolation and facing sanctions”, Khatami said.

According to a report published by his official site, on Tuesday May 2; in a meeting with the members of the ‘Supreme Council of Reformists Policy-making’, Khatami reiterated the comments made by Vice president, Eshagh Jahangiri, adding “The interest of the people and the country is in the continuation of Rouhani’s government.”

The moderate incumbent is facing five challengers, including his own reformist vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri.

The other contenders are mid-ranking cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, the custodian of Imam Reza shrine who supervises over the tax exempted financial empire of ‘Astan Qods Razavi’, in Mashhad; Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, an Iran-Iraq war veteran, and a former Commander-in-Chief of Iran’s Police forces who has been Tehran Mayor for the past twelve years; Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a former vice president who prefers to call himself a ‘centrist’; and Mostafa Mirsalim, a prominent member of the extreme conservative ‘Islamic Coalition Party’.

Mr. Khatami praised Mr. Jahangiri’s exuberant competency and abilities as a back-up for Mr. Rouhani’s second term presidency. “For various reasons, our candidate for the presidency is ‘His Excellency’ Mr. Rouhani, since the continuation of his government is in the best interests of the nation.”

Referring to president Rouhani’s government achievements, Mr. Khatami, 73, reminded his audience “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, (Iran nuclear deal with world powers) was the outcome of a correct international course taken by the government. JCPOA brought in good results, such as ending Iran international isolation, lifting the suffocating burden of international sanctions off the shoulders of the nation and eliminating anti Iran international consensus.

Two terms of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency forced Iran to face widespread international sanctions over its nuclear activities. Four years ago, president Rouhani changed the course and sought better relations with the outside world. Two years into Mr. Rouhani’s presidency, Iran and five world powers, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and USA, signed JCPOA which was implemented last year. Most of international sanctions against Iran were either lifted or suspended. Iran, on his part, ended most of her nuclear activities.

Mohammad Khatami, 73, was an important figure in Mr. Rouhani’s first-term election victory. He has been under a media ban since 2009 bloody uprising of the people who opposed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Referring to the protests, the supreme Leader and his conservative allies have implicitly labelled Mr. Khatami as a prominent figure in ‘fitna’, or sedition.

Meanwhile, the head of the ‘Supreme Leader’s Inspection Office’, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, a prominent conservative and former Speaker of parliament, joined Mr. Khatami in endorsing Mr. Rouhani as the most qualified for the presidency in May 19 election.

“I personally know the candidates and their backgrounds but, while holding respect for every one of them, I believe Mr. Rouhani is the most qualified of all. I endorse and support him as the late ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani did in 2013 election and even later.”, Students News Agency, ISNA, quoted Mr. Nateq Nouri, speaking in the holy city of Qom, on May 4.

Four days earlier, Hadi Ghavami, a conservative and ‘principle-ist’ member of the parliament, had predicted that Nateq-Nouri’s support for the incumbent president would cost his conservative challengers losing twenty to thirty per cent of the votes that normally belong to the ‘principle-ist’ candidates.

Ali-Akbar Nateq Nouri, 72, was a conservative and hardliner candidate in the Iranian presidential election in 1997. Although supported by ayatollah Khamenei’s allies, he decisively lost to Mohammad Khatami.

His support for president Rouhani means the rift in the conservative camp is widening. The conservatives have failed to rally behind a single candidate, so far. However, Sa’id Jalili, who led Iran nuclear talks in final years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency and was defeated by Hassan Rouhani in 2013 presidential election, is the only prominent figure among the conservatives who has openly supported Ebrahim Raisi.

Former twice president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his close ally, Hamid Baqai have declared their impartiality, supporting none of the candidates. The two were disqualified to run for the May 19 election by the Guardian Council.

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