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EghtesadOnline: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani will seek a second term, ending weeks of speculation by joining an election field with hardline stalwarts including his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leading cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who’s seen as his most credible challenger.

Rouhani, the 68-year-old moderate cleric who prioritized engagement with the West and was the architect of Iran’s 2015 landmark nuclear deal, registered for the May 19 poll at the interior ministry on Friday. Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, followed within hours. All candidates are subject to a vetting process by the powerful Guardian Council, and those who qualify are to be announced by April 27, Bloomberg reported.

“I’ve come back again for Iran, I’ve come back again for Islam, for better stability across our country, for greater security and more progress,” Rouhani said after registering. “We have to gather again for Islam, to build Iran together. ”

Rouhani has spent weeks defending his economic record, pushing back against critics who argue that ordinary people are yet to feel any benefits from the nuclear deal and subsequent lifting of sanctions. In addition to Ahmadinejad, who registered earlier in the week, Rouhani is likely to face a strong challenge from the 56-year-old Raisi, who can attract conservative voters from Iran’s provinces.

Economic Platform

“Rouhani was elected primarily on the promise of elevating the economic position of Iranians,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said before the president registered his candidacy. While many delegations have come since the lifting of sanctions, “people are not seeing a huge elevation for Iran in terms of the economy or its place on the international stage,” she said.

Raisi, speaking to reporters after he registered, made reference to a need for adjustments.

“Approaches have to change,” Raisi told reporters after registering. “We must create an economy that supports production and respects the role of the people in the economy. An economy that won’t be damaged by those days when there are social and political shocks."

Raisi was appointed last year by Khamenei to manage a wealthy Islamic charity that controls Iran’s holiest shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad. His background and ties to Khamenei means it’s unlikely that he would be rejected.

Geranmayeh said Raisi will be a serious contender “given his current position as the head of the religious endowment.” It appears that it “will be turban against turban with Rouhani on one side and Raisi the other,” she said.

More than 1,000 hopefuls have signed up since registration opened on Tuesday. Ahmadinejad flashed a V for victory sign as he registered April 12 in apparent defiance of Khamenei’s advice not to run to avoid polarizing the country.

Hassan Rouhani Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Iran presidential election Iran presidential candidates Ebrahim Raisi