Akbar Torkan, Rouhani’s deputy campaign manager, said that an advisory committee set up to study a coalition between Rouhani and Mohammed-Reza Aref would announce its decision within 24 hours.
At the same time, Qolam Houssein Karbaschi, a leading technocrat and reformist close to influential former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, claimed that the decision would be to choose Hassan Rouhani as the coalition’s candidate, according to Iran’s Mehr News agency.
Hassan Rouhani, a former national security official and one-time head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, has so far found support among moderates in the conservative and reformist camps, while Aref had drawn his support from among Iran’s reformists.
During the campaign, Rouhani has performed strongly on the campaign trail and in televised debates, and has built support amongst Iran’s educated middle class.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Torkan, who served as Iran’s defense minister during the Rafsanjani administration and as deputy minister for industry under Mohammad Khatami, claimed that almost all credible opinion polls put Rouhani in the lead.
Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal that a political alliance encompassing reformists, moderate conservatives and technocrats is emerging in Iran in the run up to the June 14 presidential election.
This alliance connects two former presidents, centrist Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist Mohamamd Khatami, and the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
“An advisory committee has been set up by representatives of both candidates plus representatives from Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and Seyed Hassan Khomeini,” Torkan confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat.
It is understood that Hashemi Rafsanjani is to announce the coalition decision via a statement encouraging all supporters of the moderate and reformist faction to join forces and back a single candidate in the election.
Conservative factions represented by three other candidates, Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and chief nuclear negotiator Saed Jalili, have been anxious to ensure such a coalition does not materialize. For them, a united moderate–reformist coalition raises the odds for an outright victory for their opponents in Friday’s poll.
Beginning in the early hours of Sunday, conservative media outlets began reporting rumors that Iran’s Guardian Council, which is charged with vetting all presidential and parliamentary candidates, was to re-consider Rouhani’s eligibility to run for the presidency.
Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council’s spokesman, denied the reports on Monday.
“Unfortunately, sometimes, certain reports are published that surprise us, too,” he told the Iranian Students’ News Agency on Monday.
Kadkhodaei was speaking following a meeting with the campaign managers of the presidential candidates, who had been invited to attend debriefings on the conduct of their campaigns.
He said: “According to Article 58 of the election law, the Guardian Council can vet the candidates again before the election day, but we have not re-vetted anyone.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, other sources close to Rouhani’s campaign condemned the false reports as an unethical tactic aimed at preventing the creation of an Aref–Rouhani coalition.
Major changes are also underway in the conservative camp, after one conservative presidential candidate, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, withdrew from the race on Monday.
A former speaker of Iran’s parliament, Haddad-Adel released a statement saying he was pulling out in favor of other candidates from his “principalist” faction of conservative loyalists.
Haddad-Adel said he would continue supporting the principalist camp, and that he hopes that his decision would help principlists win the election in the first round.
“If the election is taken to the second round, I hope it is between two principalist candidates,” he added.
Under Iran’s current electoral system, if no candidate wins more than 50% of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential election, scheduled for Friday, a run-off will be held one week later.