Is Majles speaker Ali Larijani preparing for presidential campaign in 2021?

Iranian Diplomacy- The conservative arrangement of the 12th administration has increased friction between the Rouhani administration and the Reformist front. In the meantime, pro-reform leaders are calling the administration’s critics to exercise more patience and moderation. However, most observers believe that the Reformist front and the moderate spectrum associated with Hassan Rouhani will split ways in the years to come.

Circumstances seem to confirm that, as contrary to the Reformists’ expectations, Hassan Rouhani does not seem to be inclined towards paving the ground for the emergence of a fully Reformist administration to take over after him in 2021. Or at least he is not preoccupied with the idea. He may as well want his ‘moderate’ approach be dominant well into the next presidential race.

A close alliance between Hassan Rouhani and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani further proves some political anticipations around the latter as the main candidate for the moderates and moderate Principlists.

Larijani’s recent gestures include sitting beside former president Mohammad Khatami, under a media blackout, in a mourning ceremony held last week, defying hawkish criticisms over rumors he is increasingly leaning toward the Reformists.

Even former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly flagged Ali Larijani’s presidential campaign for 2021, in a recent letter to his brother Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, Iran’s chief magistrate.

Ali Larijani is well aware that the Reformists led by Khatami have played president-maker in recent years and anyone with an eye to office should move under their colors or at least show affiliation.

Sure, Larijani is a seasoned, intelligent, calculating, and foresighted politician who will never put himself on the line like ex-mayor of Tehran Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf [who failed in presidential elections three times]. Thus, he is trying to imply to the public that there is no gap between him and mainstream political fronts, and he has respectful mutual ties with both ends of the political spectrum.

This approach is reminiscent of the late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who always stood in the middle and respected both sides.

However, the Reformist camp will back Larijani in the 2021 race, only if supervising bodies [i.e. the Guardian Council] disqualify all its favored candidates, leaving them with no other choice. If so, the Reformist will throw support behind a candidate of the Right, as they did back in 2013, to prevent a hardliner Principlist from winning office. Of course, they are already looking for a hopeful candidate and Larijani is not being on the table yet.

Social Welfare Minister under the Reformist Khatami administration Ali Sufi has elaborated on the situation. “It seems that Mr. Rouhani has arranged the cabinet under pressure. Therefore, we should wait and see Mr. Rouhani’s long-term strategic moves and whether he will adopt a reformist approach. On the other hand, Rouhani and Larijani coordinated the arrangement of the cabinet, with the latter having a major role. Mr. Rouhani will seek to strengthen Larijani’s political status in coming years,” Sufi said.

However, Amirreza Vaez Ashtiani, the spokesman of Yaran-e Enghelab, a pro-Ahmadinejad party, says this is natural. “Some parts of the Principlist camp led by Mr. Larijani will try to get closer to Rouhani every day. That is why the administration and the parliament are becoming increasingly close, seen in the parliament’s vote of confidence,” he explained.

“The alliance between Rouhani and Larijani is not based on partisan interests but on public ones. Rouhani wants to invest on Larijani for the handling of the country’s future. That is why he will prefer Larijani to Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri. However, there are different views within the Principlist camp and it is very unlikely for them to reach a consensus over Larijani in the 2021 presidential race,” Ashtiani added.

Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, prominent Reformist figure and the interior minister under the Khatami administration, was the first to openly announce that the Reformist front will take part in the next presidential race using a Reformist candidate. He even went further and said the candidate is decided and front is planning to invest on him.

Reformist activist Abdollah Momeni has also made clear that the Reform camp is not considering throwing support behind Ali Larijani. “In the past four years, Mr. Rouhani has looked for coalitions and alliances within the power structure to combat the hardliners. However, Mr. Larijani and his proponents lack popularity, social base, or campaigns that appeal to the people. The plurality within the Reformist front does not disturb consensus on a single candidate. However, a consensus around Larijani is not possible and the leaders should understand that. The Reformists’ natural preference is for Reformist candidates, which will also include having to face certain obstacles,” Momeni has been quoted as saying.

Larijani is still a target for radical Principlists’ criticism and his main challenge will be the lack of an all-sided consensus on him within the Principlist front. Perhaps it is for bridging the wide gap that he is increasingly leaning toward the Reformists.