Reuters: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday officially declared his candidacy for a second term in an election that is expected to pit him against a moderate former prime minister.
By Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday officially declared his candidacy for a second term in an election that is expected to pit him against a moderate former prime minister.
The hardline president, who has proved a polarizing figure in Iranian politics with his anti-Western speeches and profligate government spending of petrodollars, registered as a candidate in the June 12 vote at the Interior Ministry in Tehran.
"Each election should be a launchpad for higher aims and a new start for the nation," Ahmadinejad told reporters. "My duty is to announce my readiness to serve the people."
A senior aide had told Reuters that he would run again but Ahmadinejad had not himself made clear his plans until now.
Moderate former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi, who is widely seen as Ahmadinejad's main challenger, is expected to register on Saturday.
Even though Iran's nuclear row with the West dominates headlines abroad, analysts predict the economy and high inflation in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter will be the main campaign issues.
The vote is Ahmadinejad's biggest popularity test since he emerged as the surprise winner of the 2005 presidential race vowing to share out Iran's oil wealth more fairly and to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Reformists and even some conservatives have accused him of squandering Iran's oil revenue windfall when crude prices soared in 2002-08 and of isolating Iran internationally.
The president's supporters dismiss such criticism, saying Iran's position in the world has been strengthened during his four-year term in office, which has seen a steady expansion of nuclear work the West fears is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
Analysts say the outcome of the presidency race could depend on who enjoys the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose words could influence millions of loyalists.
Khamenei has in the past voiced backing for Ahmadinejad, but has also stressed he would stay neutral in the election.
The vote coincides with efforts by Washington toward reconciliation with Iran after three decades of mutual mistrust, with U.S. President Barack Obama offering a new beginning of engagement with Tehran if it "unclenches its fist."
Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful power purposes, insists Washington must show real policy change toward the Islamic Republic rather than in words.
Mousavi, who enjoys the backing of moderate former president Mohammad Khatami, says he would seek improved ties with the West.
But, like Ahmadinejad, he has also ruled out stopping nuclear work that can have both civilian and military uses, as the United States and its allies want Tehran to do.
More than 170 people have signed up to run for president since registration began on Tuesday, even though most of them face probable disqualification by a clerical watchdog body.
Former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie also registered as a candidate, saying Iran's economy needed fundamental change.
The registration ends on Saturday, after which candidates will be vetted by the Guardian Council, which has strict moral and other criteria. In the last vote in 2005, only about 10 were cleared.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)