REFILE-Iranian opposition figure Karroubi to vote for Rouhani in election – Nasdaq

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(Refiles to fix spelling of Karroubi in headline)
    * Oppose hardliners who seek "Islamic state" - Karroubi
    * Pragmatist president seeks second term in Friday's vote
    * Asks supporters for stronger mandate to liberalise society

    By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
    LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) - Iranian opposition figure Mehdi
Karroubi, under house arrest since 2011, will back President
Hassan Rouhani's bid for a second term in Friday's election, his
family told Reuters.
    Rouhani, a pragmatist who has eased Iran's international
isolation and now faces mostly hardline conservative challengers
for the presidency, told supporters he needed a stronger mandate
to liberalise Iranian society and get opposition leaders freed.
    Karroubi, 80, and fellow reformist Mirhossein Mousavi ran
for election in June 2009 and became figureheads for Iranians
who staged mass protests after the vote they believed was rigged
to bring back hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
    "My father believes in reform through the ballot box,"
Karroubi's son, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, said in a telephone
interview. "He believes people should take part in elections to
fight against those who want to turn the Islamic Republic into
an Islamic state."
    Karroubi, Mousavi and Mousavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard were
confined to their homes in February 2011 after the opposition
leaders called supporters to rally in solidarity with
pro-democracy uprisings in Arab countries.
    "This election is a sharp confrontation between a real
Islamic Republic and a ceremonial one," Karroubi was quoted as
saying on Monday by Saham News, the official website of his
political party.
    Karroubi asked all Iranians to take part in the election and
to protect the democratic process by choosing their preferred
candidate, but said: "I will vote for Rouhani of course."
    In a blistering televised election debate on Friday, Rouhani
cast his hardline clerical foes as power-hungry pawns of Iran's
security forces, seeking to energise voters disillusioned by a
sluggish economy and the slow pace of social reform. "Please
don't abuse religion for power," said Rouhani. [nL8N1IE4XS]

    This would be the first time Karroubi votes in any election
since his arrest. In the parliamentary election in 2016, he said
he would have voted but his family said the ballot box reached
his home too late.
    Mohammad Taghi Karroubi said the family was confident that
the interior ministry would let his father vote on Friday.
    Rouhani, a mid-ranking Muslim cleric and longtime
establishment figure, was elected in 2013 by a 51 percent margin
on promises of detente with major powers and an end to house
arrests of opposition leaders.
    He struck a deal with world powers in 2015 that lifted most
international sanctions on Iran, reconnecting it with the global
financial system and opening new avenues for foreign investment,
in return for curbs to Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
    "But there are issues that my legal government was not able
to resolve," Rouhani said on Monday, referring to his failure to
end house arrests - in part due to his lack of authority over
hardline security forces answerable only to Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei under Iran's complex system of dual
theocratic and republican government.
    "Some issues cannot be resolved if the government has only
51 percent of votes," Rouhani said.
    If no candidate win more than 50 percent of the votes in the
election on May 19, a run-off will be held a week later.

 (Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Mark Heinrich)