Iranian opposition groups are preparing to mount a challenge to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in next June's presidential elections, local media reported Saturday.
Mehdi Karroubi, the 71-year-old head of the moderate Etemad Melli (National Trust) party, will most likely be the first to confirm his candidacy for the June 12, 2009 elections in a press conference Sunday.
Reformers are still hoping to persuade former president Mohammad Khatami to run for office, but the 65-year-old cleric has not yet decided.
An alternative for Khatami could reportedly be former vice-president Mohamad-Ali Najafi, 56, who is currently member of the Tehran City Council.
Another potential candidate from the opposition camp could be the former National Security Council Hassan Rowhani, 60, a moderate cleric who is also close to influential ex-president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
All four are known to be fiercely opposed to Ahmadinejad's policies but observers believe that too many candidates would result in them splitting up the opposition vote, to Ahmadinejad's advantage.
There have been reports that the conservative groups critical of the president might choose Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani as their candidate. But the former chief nuclear negotiator Saturday said he had no plans to run.
Another candidate from the conservative camp could be Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf who is popular in the capital and respected by the system due to his time as the capital's police chief. The 50-year-old technocrat is however not well known in other Iranian provinces.
Ahmadinejad, 52, hopes to get the unanimous support of the ultra-conservative factions, but even clerical circles are critical of the president's adventurous policies, both in foreign affairs and in the economy.
Constantly-increasing inflation, officially at almost 30 percent but believed to be even higher, is the biggest problem currently facing Ahmedinejad, along with Iran's international political isolation due to his insistence on continuing to pursue controversial nuclear projects.
While new packages and plans have so far failed to bring the desired economic results, those who voted for Ahmadinejad because of his promises to implement economic reforms in favour of the poor are gradually losing faith in him.