TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's constitutional watchdog has approved June 17 as the date for presidential elections, state-run television reported Saturday, marking the first contest for control of the presidency since ruling clerics barred reformist candidates from last year's parliamentary election.
The Guardian Council (search) has agreed to hold the presidential election on June 17, television quoted council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham (search) as saying. Hard-line conservatives have gained the upper hand over reformists in parliament since the Guardian Council barred reformist candidates from running in the February 2004 parliamentary election.
Parliamentary by-elections in several cities will also be held at the same time, Elham said.
On Monday, Iran's largest reform party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (search), chose former Cabinet minister Mostafa Moin, a close ally of President Mohammad Khatami (search), as its sole candidate in the upcoming elections.
Elham dismissed speculation that the Guardian Council could disqualify Moin, saying, "Any talk about disqualification or approval of candidates has nothing to do with the Guardian Council because there has been no official registration yet."
The Guardian Council, which vets all parliamentary legislation and elections, disqualified more than 2,000 reformist candidates in legislative polls in February, effectively barring reformers from the assembly.
Hardliners are hoping to consolidate their grip on power and further erode the reformists' base of power. Among conservatives expected to run are former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is currently an adviser on international affairs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, who is now Khamenei's representative on the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's top security decision-making body; Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad; and lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli.
Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, still a powerful force in Iran and a leading hard-liner, has said he will run if most political groups support his candidacy.
Former hard-line clerics who now support reforms have expressed support for former speaker of the parliament Mahdi Karroubi. He has support among reformist-minded voters who remain loyal to the clerical establishment but he is unpopular with young people, who make up the majority of the population and who are inclined toward sweeping reforms in Iran.
The election will choose a successor to replace Khatami in August, the soft-spoken reformist whose political and social agenda has been stifled by hard-line conservatives. Khatami, who is prevented from running for a third term by the Iranian constitution, has suggested that he may return to academia after he steps down.
The next president faces substantial challenges, including the task of convincing the world that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and responding to challenges from U.S. President George W. Bush, who has included Iran in his "axis of evil."