But that backing from clerics has yet to translate into demonstrable public support for Velayati in Qom, where his campaign headquarters Monday was manned by only two teenagers, one of them too young to vote. And with the loyalty of voters and many clergymen split among three conservative candidates, there are few signs that clerical backing will be as decisive as in the past.
Late last month, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, a cleric who leads the influential hard-line Islamic Revolution Stability Front, convened a news conference to endorse the candidacy of Kamran Bagheri Lankarani, a former health minister.
“I hereby testify that on this ground and under this sky I don’t know anyone as fit to be president as Lankarani,” Mesbah-Yazdi said. “Some of these candidates I know well and respect, but they are not suitable for the presidency.”
Several days later, however, Lankarani exited the race even before a vetting group known as the Guardian Council issued its final list of eligible candidates. There were reports that Lankarani had pulled out because other influential clerical groups had begun to line up behind a rival, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator.
Among politicians, the clerics who continue to enjoy considerable support do so more because of their political accomplishments than their religious ones.
This is certainly true of Khatami and Rafsanjani, as well as of Hassan Rouhani, whom the two former presidents back in Friday’s election. Rouhani is the only cleric in the race, but he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator under Khatami.
Khatami, especially, enjoys a celebrity-like status in Iran, drawing large crowds wherever he goes.
“I really like Khatami, and when I think about him, his turban is not the thing that comes to mind; it’s what he accomplished in office that matters to me,” said Zahra Mokhtari, a 29-year-old graduate student.