Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the heated rhetoric of Iran’s presidential election campaign on Wednesday as “unworthy”, criticizing President Hassan Rouhani’s attacks on his main conservative challenger.
Khamenei’s intervention two days before Iranians go to the polls could help sway the vote by signaling the supreme leader’s dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s conduct.
“In the election debates, some remarks were made that were unworthy of the Iranian nation. But the (wide) participation of the people will erase all of that,” Khamenei told an audience on Wednesday, according to his own website.
The withdrawal of other conservative candidates has turned Friday’s election into an unexpectedly tight two-horse race between Rouhani, 68, and hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old protege of the supreme leader.
While Khamenei did not mention any of the candidates specifically, his criticism appeared aimed in particular at Rouhani, who during a debate last week went beyond the bounds of what is normally considered permissible discourse in Iran to cast his foes as power-hungry pawns of the security forces.
“Mr. Raisi, you can slander me as much you wish. As a judge of the clerical court, you can even issue an arrest order. But please don’t abuse religion for power,” Rouhani said at one point.
At another point he said to Raisi: “Some security and revolutionary groups are busing people to your campaign rallies … Who finances them?”
For his part, Raisi, who as a long-serving member of the judiciary was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, attacked Rouhani for failing to deliver promised improvements to the economy.
Under Iran’s ruling system, Khamenei, who is 77 and has been in office since 1989, has more authority than the elected president but is traditionally expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics. He has generally limited his comments about the election to calling for strong turnout.