On Thursday, the Guardian Council, Iran’s top panel tasked with vetting candidates, released a final list which includes President Rouhani, his Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, leading conservatives Ebrahim Raisi, who is a former deputy chief justice and the current custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, as well as two more low-key candidates Mostafa Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemitaba.
They were among more than 1,600 hopefuls who registered to run for the May 19 election.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later. Rouhani won last time with 51.8 percent in the first round, helped by a divided Conservative camp.
In the upcoming vote, a comfortable victory would not be out of reach for Rouhani due to division among Conservatives
The electoral body, however, disqualified former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had been advised by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei not to run as his standing would "polarize" the nation and harm national interests.
Rouhani’s main rival appear to be Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric running on a conservative platform.
The two will likely face off over the economy as well as the nuclear deal signed with world powers, which Rouhani has highlighted as his signature achievement during the past four years in office.
The deal cubed portions of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of several crippling international sanctions.
Under Rouhani’s government inflation decreased and the economy grew significantly.
Little-known on the political scene, Raisi manages a powerful religious foundation in the holy city of Mashhad, which takes care of the Shrine of Imam Reza, the Eighth Imam of Shia Muslims. Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favor of Qalibaf, a former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander and police chief, who came second to Rouhani in 2013 garnering 15.83 percent of votes. It is his third attempt in the race.
The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates, a feature in the last two presidential elections, would be banned, without giving a reason – a decision criticized by Rouhani and other candidates. Pre-taped interviews will air instead, perhaps to keep candidates from stoking up their supporters.