A former head of the elite Revolutionary Guards on Friday became the most prominent figure so far to register as a candidate in Iran's June presidential election mere hours before incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, registered.
Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative who is now secretary of the powerful Expediency Council arbitration body, said the economy of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter needed "fundamental change" and advocated a broad based government of experts.
Even though he has been well-known in Iran after a long career as Guards commander, analysts did not expect Rezaie to be among the frontrunners in the June 12 vote, in which Ahmadinejad will seek a second four-year term.
Moderate politician Mirhossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, was expected to be the incumbent's main challenger but has yet to officially register as a candidate at the Interior Ministry registration center in Tehran.
Candidates have until Saturday to register, after which they will be vetted by the Guardian Council, which has strict moral and other criteria, requiring them to be established statesmen. In the last vote in 2005, only about 10 were cleared.
State television said about 170 people had so far registered as candidates with the Interior Ministry since the process began Tuesday.
The number included 11 women, even though the constitution says candidates must be "rejal", an Arabic word for men. The official IRNA news agency said a 12-year-old boy had also signed up.
Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election on a pledge to share out Iran's oil wealth more fairly and to revive the values of the country's Islamic revolution three decades ago.
But reformists and even some conservatives accused him of squandering Iran's oil revenue windfall when crude prices soared in 2002-08 and of isolating Iran with his fiery speeches against the West.
Even though the rate declined since last year, official inflation still stands at about 18 percent year-on-year. An Iranian business daily in April said unemployment rose to 12.5 percent during the winter.
"The Iranian economy's low efficiency and its declining trend has been the reason why we haven't enjoyed desirable economic growth," the ISNA news agency quoted Rezaie as saying after he registered as an election candidate.
Rezaie was a candidate also in 2005, but pulled out two days before the polls to avoid splitting the conservative vote.