There was heavy security in the capital Tehran as campaigning got underway for the presidential vote in May. Six candidates are vying for the position.

Iran's elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people — and no women — to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week.
Iran's elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people — and no women — to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week.

Campaigning officially started on Friday for Iran's May presidential election, pitting pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani against five other contenders.

A watchdog body in charge of vetting candidates and laws, the Guardian Council approved six candidates on Thursday for the May 19 vote – including Rouhani. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was disqualified.

Police fanned out across Tehran's main squares overnight after the names of the candidates were announced, according to videos posted on social media.

Supporters of the six successful candidates had started campaigning on social media last week. Iran blocks access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but millions of Iranians use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access those sites.

Iran's top leaders regard the election in part as a show of defiance against renewed US pressure under President Donald Trump, and have called for a high turnout to strengthen the clerical establishment's legitimacy.

"The election is a very difficult and important test for all of us ... a high turnout will show to the world that the establishment enjoys the strong backing and support of its people," Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammadali Movahedi-Kermani told worshippers.

Rouhani won a landslide victory in 2013 on a platform of ending Iran's diplomatic isolation and reviving the country's crippling sanction-hit economy.

On April 4, the US Senate delayed a bill to slap new sanctions on Iran due to concerns about the election.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Iran of "alarming, ongoing provocations" to destabilise countries in the Middle East.

"A comprehensive Iran policy requires we address all of the threats posed by Iran and it is clear there are many," he said.

Rouhani engineered Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that secured removal of most of international sanctions against Tehran. But domestic critics say he has failed to boost the economy despite the lifting of sanctions last year.

Analysts say the biggest challenge to Rouhani – himself endorsed by moderates and prominent conservatives, including parliament speaker Ali Larijani – is influential mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The four other candidates are Iran's first Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former conservative culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim, former pro-reform vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies