Iran's election watchdog has approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in next month's presidential election, state television reported on Tuesday, while disqualifying some of his main rivals including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The move is likely to boost the prospects of Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it may further dent the clerical rulers' hopes of a high turnout in the June 18 vote, amid rising discontent over an economy crippled by US sanctions.
As well as Ahmadinejad, the hardline-led Guardian Council barred former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a moderate conservative, and pragmatist First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, an ally of outgoing president Hassan Rouhani.
Rouhani and his moderate allies have blamed most of Iran's economic woes on US sanctions and given top priority to talks aimed at reviving Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which former US president Donald Trump quit.
But conservative and hardline allies of Khamenei have placed the responsibility squarely on the government, and insisted that Washington cannot be trusted to fulfill any accord.
The Council approved just seven candidates out of 40 who met its basic criteria - in turn a small fraction of the 600 who had registered.
They included former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a conservative; former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaei, a frequent presidential candidate; and current Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, a low-profile moderate.
Even Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications.
"Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, ... I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory," Raisi said on Twitter.
Larijani, who had voiced support for the nuclear deal and talks to revive it, said he accepted the Council's ruling.
"Now that the election process has been conducted in this way, I have done my duty before God and my dear nation," he tweeted.
In a speech in parliament carried by local media, lawmaker Ahmad Alirezabeigi, blasted Ahmadinejad's disqualification and said security forces had surrounded the populist hardliner's home, even though he had urged his supporters to remain calm.