Tehran, April 21 (IANS) Campaigning began on Friday for Irans presidential elections after a government vetting body approved incumbent Hassan Rouhani and five challengers to run in the May 19 poll, while former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was disqualified, state media reported.
According to the Guardian Council, Rouhani's main rivals in the presidential race include two prominent hardliners: Ebrahim Raisi, a political hardliner considered close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.
Other candidates qualified to run are Rouhani's Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former conservative Culture Minister Mostafa Mirsalim and former pro-reform Vice President Mostafa Hashemitaba, IRNA reported.
More than 1,600 candidates sought to stand, but only six were selected by the clerical body which vets candidates.
Khamenei had advised Ahmadinejad not to run, and his attempt to become a candidate was widely seen as a public snub to the Supreme Leader, said the report.
Ahmadinejad's close ally Hamid Baghaie was also barred from standing in the election.
A final list of candidates for the May 19 poll will be announced on April 27.
According to reports, the poll body, by disqualifying Ahmadinejad, runs the risk of being seen as a rubber stamp for the Supreme Leader as he appoints half of the members of the Guardian Council.
Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, squeaked to victory last time with 51 per cent in the first round, helped by a divided conservative camp.
Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad.
Rouhani and Raisi are expected to focus their campaigns on the state of the economy as well as the nuclear deal, which has been hailed by the President as his most significant success during the past four years in office.
Meanwhile, Iran's Interior Ministry said there would be no live debates in the run-up to the elections.
"Based on a decision by the Election Campaign Monitoring Commission, the election debates of the candidates will be broadcast pre-recorded," Interior Ministry spokesman Seyed Salman Samani said.
Following the ministry's announcement, Rouhani called for the decision to be reviewed.
"I support the mostly independent way in which Iranians could receive information on the candidates and the elections," Rouhani said.
The council's spokesman, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, said that candidates should stay away from hurting the image of their competitors and respect the electoral law, according to reports.
The election commission also issued guidelines for the debates, and said candidates are not allowed "to tarnish the image of the country, or the actions of the executive, administrative, legislative or judicial bodies."