Iran’s central bank governor was dismissed after the government said his candidacy for next month’s presidential election interfered with his official duties.
The cabinet of President Hassan Rouhani decided that Abdolnaser Hemmati’s run in the June 18 poll could “prevent him from being sufficiently present at the central bank”, local media reported on Sunday.
Hemmati had refused to step down. Akbar Komijani, one of his deputies, has taken over as central bank chief.
Hemmati, 64, is a technocrat who has held senior economic positions in Iran for decades without becoming a household name. He has emerged as a favoured candidate for some reformist groups after better-known names were eliminated from the race, such as Es’haq Jahangiri, the first vice-president, and Ali Larijani, a centrist former parliamentary speaker.
Despite his removal from the central bank, analysts say Hemmati could challenge the hardline frontrunner and judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi.
Hemmati has positioned himself as a pragmatist with a focus on the economy, and someone who can revive the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and help lift crippling US sanctions.
“The sudden emergence of Hemmati and an unexpected rise in his votes has disturbed hardliners,” said a reformist analyst. “It’s possible that many reformist groups will eventually back him. Iranians might push back against Raisi and elect Hemmati.”
Hemmati — whose slogan is “interaction at home and abroad” — has distanced himself from the other six candidates and cultivated a professional image rather than one motivated by ideology.
“Without a deal [with world powers] to have sanctions lifted . . . and without an agreement at home between the state and its citizens, people’s living conditions will not improve,” he said.
Analysts say Raisi, who analysts suspect is the favourite candidate of the country’s rulers, is leading in opinion polls. However, they note that his support has not increased since his campaign kicked off last week.
This has lifted hopes for candidates such as Major General Mohsen Rezaei, a member of the Revolutionary Guards who led the elite force for 16 years. He has promised a big increase in the monthly cash handouts that go to almost half the population and that he would pay monthly salaries to housewives.
Reformers are divided on whether to back Hemmati after senior figures including Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, said they would boycott the poll in protest at their disqualifications.
Mohammad Hashemi, a brother of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is believed to be trying to mobilise reformists to back Hemmati.
“Hemmati is the candidate of the pro-Rafsanjani camp,” said another reformist politician. “His fate depends on how well he can manage televised debates against Raisi.”