TEHRAN – Iran's reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami has withdrawn from the June presidential election, a close aide of the charismatic cleric told AFP on Monday.
"He has taken a decision to withdraw. We will officially announce it tonight or tomorrow in a statement," the aide said, asking not to be named.
The decision is seen as a move to secure support from the electorate for Mir Hossein Mousavi, another reformist candidate who is running for the presidency.
Mehr news agency on Sunday reported that Khatami had during a recent meeting with his campaign officials indicated his plan to withdraw from the vote, citing attempts to dilute support for reformists.
"Opponents want to divide my supporters and supporters of Mousavi," Khatami was quoted as saying.
"It is not in our interest. Also some conservatives are supporting Mousavi. He (Mousavi) thinks that we have to change the situation. Mousavi is popular and will be able to execute his plans and I prefer he stays in the race."
Former Iranian parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi is also planning to run in the June 12 election while incumbent hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is yet to officially announce his candidacy.
Khatami, 65, was president of Iran between 1997 and 2005.
In his previous presidential term, Khatami inspired the Iranian youth with promises of social and political reforms while Iran's relations with the West were less confrontational than they are now under Ahmadinejad.
Western nations accuse Tehran of seeking to make atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme. Iran says its atomic ambitions are entirely peaceful.
During his previous presidential term, Khatami earned the tag "reformist" for several liberal initiatives that continue even now under the government of his hardline successor Ahmadinejad.
Although many social and political restrictions remain, women and young people even today enjoy a greater presence in Iran's political landscape due to reforms introduced by Khatami.
He had also appointed the first woman to a cabinet post since the 1979 revolution.
But despite his best efforts, Khatami encountered major setbacks to his reform programme during his previous tenure.
Leading nationalists and liberal writers were assassinated in late 1998 in a series of brutal killings blamed on "rogue" intelligence service agents.
A student of Islam and philosophy who has attained Islam's third-highest clerical rank - hojatoleslam - Khatami has a passion for writers and thinkers such as Descartes, Tolstoy and Goethe.
He is the author of several books, including "From the World of the City to the City of the World," a study of Western philosophical and political thought.
Mousavi was Iran's last prime minister between 1981 and 1989. Iran scrapped the post of premier when the constitution was revised in 1989.
Since then Mousavi has kept a low profile and rarely given interviews.
He is a member of the Expediency Council, the top political arbitration body, and heads Iran's Art Academy, which was established to safeguard the national heritage.
He also served as presidential advisor from 1989 to 2005.
Presidential candidates have to register officially with the interior ministry over a five day period starting May 5.
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