Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf is increasingly being referred to as the “IRGC’s candidate” in Iran’s presidential elections of June 28. Many believe at least one major faction in the Revolutionary Guard is backing his candidacy.

The clearest reference that the IRGC has a ‘preferred’ candidate was made Wednesday by Vahid Haghanian, a former close aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in a statement published Wednesday.

Tasnim news website affiliated with the IRGC on Tuesday attacked Haghanian on for declaring his candidacy and said he lacked the required qualifications. It also alleged that Haghanian’s campaign was focused on the false claim that Khamenei’s office supported his candidacy.

Without directly naming Tasnim, Haghanian, who claims his decision to run was personal, has stated that the "desperate attempts" to discredit him stem from the IRGC-affiliated media's "fear" that their preferred candidate would be defeated.

Haghanian’s quarrel with Tasnim revealed that Ghalibaf is the candidate supported by the IRGC, the UK-based Iranian political analyst Shahir Shahidsaless maintained in a tweet on Wednesday.

“Therefore, it is conceivable that Ghalibaf broke his promise (that he would not run for president if he won the parliament’s speakership last month) and that his last-minute registration resulted from the IRGC’s insistence [on his candidacy],” he added.

In his statement, Haghanian pledged to "re-direct" the role of military-affiliated media outlets that benefit from its budget, preventing them from intervening in politics. He emphasized that the interference of the military in politics was prohibited by both the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the law.

Iranian parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf speaks at a press conference after registering as a candidate for the presidential election at the Interior Ministry, in Tehran, June 3, 2024

In recent months, the IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency and Javan newspaper have repeatedly defended Ghalibaf against political rivals who have demanded answers to allegations of corruption against him and his family.

In a live TV program a few days after the Parliamentary elections of March 1, ultra-hardliner lawmaker Hamid Rasaei accused Tasnim and Javan newspaper of being at Ghalibaf’s service.

Tasnim’s promotion of Ghalibaf against the Paydari Party hardliners in the newly elected parliament was expressed by calling his win the vote for speakership “lawmakers’ No to Destruction”.

Ahead of the parliament’s presidium elections in April 2022, Javan had accused Ghalibaf’s opponents of “cowardly” attempt to destroy his reputation following a scandal that came to be known as Layette Gate.

Radical right-wingers’ attacks on Ghalibaf have intensified on social media since his last-minute announcement, only a few days after being voted as speaker of the new parliament, that he was running for presidency.

Ali-Akbar Raefipour, an ultra-hardliner who led one of the three major election coalitions within the Principlist camp during the March parliamentary elections in Tehran, is at the forefront of the attacks against Ghalibaf.

Without directly naming Raefipour but providing obvious clues for all to understand, an editorial Thursday, June 6, in the IRGC-linked Javan newspaper accused Raefipour and his supporters of “destruction with abuse and slander”.

“This group’s activities in the parliamentary elections of March were of the same nature. Instead of political vitality, they created division and gloom among hezbollahis (revolutionaries),” the editorial said. “It’s not clear why no one is taking action against them despite numerous violations and putrefying the election atmosphere,” Javan wrote.

Raefipour, who heads the Masaf Institute—a cultural entity with charity status—has been accused of misusing over half a million dollars of donors' money for payments to other organizations, which then funneled the funds back to him, his family members, and his allies.

Raefipour and his supporters, who recently formed the political group Jebhe-ye Sobh-e Iran (Iran Morning Front), call themselves "revolutionaries."

Ghalibaf’s popularity among conservatives has alarmingly declined. He came fourth in the parliamentary elections of March 1 in Tehran with 400,000 votes, one-third of his votes in 2020. He was behind three radical right-wingers including Amir-Hossein Sabeti, a young ultra-hardliner TV presenter with scarce political experience. .

Ghalibaf and his supporters are often referred to as ‘Neo-Principlists’. This refers to his call for reforms in the outlook and methods of Khamenei’s hardline supporters to set himself apart from others, and to build himself a support base among the younger generation of hardliners after his defeat in the presidential elections of 2017.

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