Prague, 11 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in a written statement that his decision to stand in Iran's presidential election was "one of the most difficult of all my years of political activity."
The former president had been expected to run but had been hesitant in announcing his intentions. He said he finally decided to stand because of what he called "destructive tensions" that he believes are preventing the country's development. He also pointed to threats to "rights and fundamental freedoms" that he says could create a "crisis of confidence" among young people.
The 70-year-old cleric is considered a front-runner. He has held several top political positions since the establishment of the Islamic Republic 26 years ago. He was president for two consecutive terms -- from 1989 to 1997. He currently heads the powerful Expediency Council, which arbitrates in disputes between the parliament and the Guardians Council.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a pragmatic conservative and is considered to have significant influence on key state decisions -- from the economy to foreign policy. He has also been accused of corruption and human rights abuses by some journalists and members of the reformist camp.
"Our concern now is that, God willing, free, competitive, and enthusiastic elections will be held, and that our people and the government will follow the right path that the revolution has set by going to the polls and voting for a president who can defend Iran's dignity, greatness, and development." -- President Khatami
On 29 April, while leading Tehran's Friday prayers, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran is doing its best to assure the world that it has no intention of producing nuclear weapons:
"We are showing enough patience by attending these long meetings with little results, to convince [the world] that Iran is not pursuing atomic weapons," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani joins some 100 lesser-known and completely unknown candidates who also declared their intentions to run in the 17 June race. Almost every Iranian national is eligible to register without limitations.
The first candidate to register was a tile factory guard from the central desert town of Meybod. The youngest candidate -- an 18-year-old girl from Isfahan -- was quoted by Iran's Student News Agency as saying she is standing to show "people's involvement." The oldest candidate to register so far is a 76-year-old cleric, who said his aim is to express "views that have not been said before."
Houshang Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers University in the United States and the head of the American-Iranian Council, which aims to improve bilateral relations. He told Radio Farda that he is joining the race to offer practical solutions to Iran's problems.
"I believe that by entering [the race], I can form a positive change in society and help the Iranian nation solve the country's problems. According to the Iranian law for registering, I either had to go to the Interior Ministry or my candidacy could be registered through a lawyer. I took the second route," Amirahmadi said.
Iran's Interior Ministry announced that eight women have so far registered to run, despite the fact that women are not legally allowed to stand.
Saturday 14 May is the final deadline to register. Then, the 12 members of the hard-line Guardians Council -- a constitutional watchdog that oversees elections -- will begin screening candidates. According to Iran's constitution, a candidate should be a religious or political figure, of Iranian origin, with Iranian nationality. He should also be a resourceful manager with an unblemished past. The candidate must be virtuous, honest, and must believe in the values and principles of the Islamic Republic.
A list of qualified candidates is due to be issued on 25-26 May.
During the last presidential election, in May 2001, 814 people registered their candidacies. In the end, only 10 were deemed qualified to run by the Guardians Council. During last year's parliamentary elections, the Guardians Council disqualified more than 2,000 pro-reform and independent candidates.
More than 250 academics, intellectuals, and lawyers have signed an open letter calling for free elections in Iran and the abolition of the Guardians Council. The signatories say that only the people of Iran can choose the best person to lead the country.
Some 48 million citizens are eligible to vote.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami yesterday called for a high turnout.
"Our concern now is that, God willing, free, competitive, and enthusiastic elections will be held, and that our people and the government will follow the right path that the revolution has set by going to the polls and voting for a president who can defend Iran's dignity, greatness, and development," Khatami said.
Khatami has served two terms and is not constitutionally able to run again.
Despite such encouragement by the authorities, however, observers say most Iranians -- busy with their day-to-day problems -- are paying little attention to developments on the country's political scene.