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Parliament speaker. The Tehran mayor. A heart surgeon. The race is on for Iran's next president

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Parliament speaker. The Tehran mayor. A heart surgeon. The race is on for Iran's next president
ENT

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Parliament speaker. The Tehran mayor. A heart surgeon. The race is on for Iran's next president

2024-06-25 23:04 Last Updated At:06-26 05:30

Six candidates have been approved by Iran's theocracy to run in Friday’s presidential election to replace the late President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash with several other officials in May.

Among them, Iran’s parliament speaker stands out as the most recognizable figure. A little-known politician and heart surgeon is also on the ballot. He is the only reformist while the others are more skewed toward hard-liners who back Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei without question and challenge the West.

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Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, speaks during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Six candidates have been approved by Iran's theocracy to run in Friday’s presidential election to replace the late President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash with several other officials in May.

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian flashes the victory sign in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian flashes the victory sign in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, shown in the poster, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, shown in the poster, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian clenches his fist in a campaign meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian clenches his fist in a campaign meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian is surrounded by his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian is surrounded by his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian waves to his supporters during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian waves to his supporters during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian arrives for a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian arrives for a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian greets his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian greets his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's Vice-President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who is a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, speaks in a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's Vice-President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who is a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, speaks in a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, sits, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, sits, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, waves to media in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, waves to media in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice, sits in his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice, sits in his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, center, a former Minister of Justice, arrives for his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, center, a former Minister of Justice, arrives for his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, wave the country's flags during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, wave the country's flags during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A cleric holds up a poster of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A cleric holds up a poster of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian, bottom center, waves to members of the media during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian, bottom center, waves to members of the media during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

This combination of photos shows Iranian June 28, presidential candidates Masoud Pezeshkian, lawmaker and a former Health Minister, top left, Saeed Jalili, former senior nuclear negotiator, top center, Alireza Zakani, Tehran Mayor, top right, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Parliament Speaker, bottom left, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the late President Raisi's Vice-President, bottom center, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

This combination of photos shows Iranian June 28, presidential candidates Masoud Pezeshkian, lawmaker and a former Health Minister, top left, Saeed Jalili, former senior nuclear negotiator, top center, Alireza Zakani, Tehran Mayor, top right, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Parliament Speaker, bottom left, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the late President Raisi's Vice-President, bottom center, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

And if previous elections are a guide to Iranian politics, several candidates could drop out in the final days before the vote to coalesce around a unity candidate.

On Tuesday, Khamenei called for “maximum” voter turnout in the election, which analysts say could support the reformist candidate. A parliamentary election in Iran earlier this year saw the lowest turnout since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Here's a look at the candidates:

Ghazizadeh Hashemi, 53, served as one of Raisi’s vice presidents and as the head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs. He ran in the 2021 presidential election and received just under 1 million votes, coming in last place. In debates so far, he's urged the country to continue to follow the policies of Raisi and insisted that Iran does not need foreign investment to succeed, despite the widespread economic challenges the nation now faces.

The 58-year-old Jaili is a hard-line politician and former senior nuclear negotiator. He ran in Iran's 2013 presidential election and registered in 2021 before withdrawing to support Raisi. Current CIA director Bill Burns, who dealt with Jalili in negotiations in the past, has described him as “stupefyingly opaque” in talks. He got the nickname “The Living Martyr” after losing a leg in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. He maintains that Iran doesn't need to negotiate over its nuclear program with the West. Though he is seen as maintaining close ties to Khamenei, he's not considered to be a front-runner. His campaign largely has focused on rural voters.

A 69-year-old heart surgeon, Pezeshkian is the only reformist candidate among the hard-line figures seeking the presidency. He's said he'd want to renegotiate with the West to try and restart some version of the 2015 nuclear deal. He's put the need for the deal in economic terms, saying Iran needs to communicate with the world. Iran's former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who served under the relative-moderate President Hassan Rouhani and helped strike the nuclear deal, has backed him. However, analysts believe Pezeshkian would need a heavy turnout to win — which is unlikely, given the current apathy gripping the nation. His campaign has so far focused on the youth vote, women and Iran's ethnic minorities.

Pourmohammadi, 64, is the only Shiite cleric running in the election. He served as interior minister under hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and later as justice minister under Rouhani. In 2006, the United States State Department referred to Pourmohammadi as a “notorious human rights violator” for a leading role in the 1988 mass execution of several thousand political prisoners at Tehran's notorious Evin prison. The State Department also linked him to the so-called “chain murders” of activists and others in the 1990s. He's insisted the next president must deal with the world and criticized Iran's arming of Russia in the war in Ukraine — not because of the killing of civilians, but because he felt Tehran wasn't getting enough back from Moscow for its support. His campaign likely is counting on the backing of clerics and traditionalists.

The Iranian parliament speaker, Qalibaf, 62, is the highest-ranking official within the theocracy to be seeking the presidency. Analysts suggest he's the front-runner in the campaign, with Jalili as a second. Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Many remember that Qalibaf — as a former Guard general — was part of a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999. He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief. Qalibaf maintains that he, as a strong manager, can save Iran from the crisis, borrowing from recent comments made by Khamenei. Qalibaf has focused on the middle class, as well as promising more cash handouts for the poor.

The current mayor of Tehran, Zakani, 58, withdrew from the 2021 presidential election to back Raisi. Zakani has said he believes Iran can neutralize the effects of international sanctions but should pursue a diplomatic solution. He is a hard-liner who has repeatedly criticized reformists and moderates within Iran's political system, wants to see Iran stop using the dollar as a benchmark currency, and has called for Iran to create more value-added products from its oil to boost revenue. He has promised free health care for women and old people, as well as cash payments to poor people and reviving Iran's currency, the rial. However, he's offered no details on how he plans to accomplish these goals.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, speaks during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, speaks during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian flashes the victory sign in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian flashes the victory sign in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, shown in the poster, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, shown in the poster, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian clenches his fist in a campaign meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian clenches his fist in a campaign meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian is surrounded by his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian is surrounded by his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian waves to his supporters during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian waves to his supporters during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian arrives for a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian arrives for a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian greets his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian greets his supporters, during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's Vice-President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who is a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, speaks in a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's Vice-President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who is a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, speaks in a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for the June 28, presidential election, Saeed Jalili, a former Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, attend his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, a candidate for the June 28 presidential election, speaks, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, sits, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, sits, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, waves to media in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, waves to media in his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice, sits in his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice, sits in his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, center, a former Minister of Justice, arrives for his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Candidate for June 28, Iran's presidential election Mostafa Pourmohammadi, center, a former Minister of Justice, arrives for his press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, wave the country's flags during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Supporters of Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the most prominent candidate for the June 28, presidential election, who is Iran's parliament speaker, wave the country's flags during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A cleric holds up a poster of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A cleric holds up a poster of Saeed Jalili, a candidate for the June 28, presidential election, during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian, bottom center, waves to members of the media during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reformist candidate for Iran's June 28, presidential election Masoud Pezeshkian, bottom center, waves to members of the media during his campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

This combination of photos shows Iranian June 28, presidential candidates Masoud Pezeshkian, lawmaker and a former Health Minister, top left, Saeed Jalili, former senior nuclear negotiator, top center, Alireza Zakani, Tehran Mayor, top right, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Parliament Speaker, bottom left, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the late President Raisi's Vice-President, bottom center, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

This combination of photos shows Iranian June 28, presidential candidates Masoud Pezeshkian, lawmaker and a former Health Minister, top left, Saeed Jalili, former senior nuclear negotiator, top center, Alireza Zakani, Tehran Mayor, top right, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Parliament Speaker, bottom left, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the late President Raisi's Vice-President, bottom center, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — University of Florida president Ben Sasse plans to leave his position as head of one of the leading public universities in the U.S. to focus on taking care of his family after his wife was diagnosed with epilepsy.

In a post on the social platform X, the former U.S. senator from Nebraska said Thursday night that “after extensive prayer and lots of family tears,” he asked university officials that day to start looking for a new president. In a statement, the university said his resignation is effective July 31. He took the position almost two years ago.

“I need to step back for a time and focus more on the needs of my family while we rebuild more stable household systems,” Sasse said, adding that he would continue to teach at the university in Gainesville, Florida.

Sasse's wife, Melissa, who had an aneurysm and a series of strokes in 2007, was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and has been having “a new batch of memory issues," he said.

“We’ve battled some nasty seizures the last couple years, but she’s always remained a warrior,” he said.

The couple has two daughters in college, and their youngest child is turning 13, he said.

Sasse, a Republican, left the senate last year after being named the 13th president of the university.

While in the Senate, he was a prominent critic of former President Donald Trump who joined with a handful of other Republicans to vote in favor of conviction in his impeachment trial after the 2021 Capitol riot. That led to criticism from within Sasse's own party even though he voted with Trump 85% of the time and helped get his three Supreme Court nominees confirmed.

Sasso was a controversial pick to head the University of Florida, and he faced vocal opposition from some faculty and students who objected to his stance against same-sex marriage and positions on other LGBTQ issues.

Some faculty and students also questioned his qualifications to run such a sprawling school with more than 50,000 students. The university's faculty Senate voted no confidence on an opaque selection process in which Sasse emerged as the sole finalist.

The chair of the university's board of trustees, Mori Hosseini, thanked Sasse for his leadership.

“He has left a lasting impact on the university and all of those associated with it. We wish Ben all the best as he steps back to focus on his family,” Hosseini said.

Sasse thanked the university for welcoming his family and said he was grateful for the professors and students as well those behind the scenes, like third-shift maintenance crews and the early morning cafeteria workers.

“We love you. You touched our hearts and made this more than a job — you made it our community,” Sasse said. “That’s why we’re not going anywhere.”

FILE - U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., listens during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2022. Sasse, who left office to become the University of Florida president, announced late Thursday, July 18, 2024, that he will leave his job at the university at the end of the month so he can focus on taking care of his family after his wife was diagnosed with epilepsy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

FILE - U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., listens during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2022. Sasse, who left office to become the University of Florida president, announced late Thursday, July 18, 2024, that he will leave his job at the university at the end of the month so he can focus on taking care of his family after his wife was diagnosed with epilepsy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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