Iran's electoral body has excluded the top two moderate candidates from participating in the country's upcoming presidential election, the Fars news agency reports, citing official sources.
The body, also known as the Guardian Council, turned down the candidacy of former parliament speaker Ali Larijani and current Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.
The council rejected more than 98 per cent of the 592 candidates, including ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, regime critic Mostafa Tajzadeh and all 40 female applicants.
The election is scheduled for June 18.
Of the seven remaining candidates, the favourite is considered to be arch-conservative Judiciary Chief Ibrahim Raeissi, the hardliners' lead candidate and preferred choice of the establishment.
He is not classified by observers as a hardliner, but in their view would not continue President Hassan Rouhani's moderate course on foreign and nuclear policy.
The Guardian Council, with its 12 arch-conservative members, is responsible under Iran's constitution for the ideological suitability and loyalty of presidential candidates.
The council has been criticised as an undemocratic body for years.
Larijani and Jahangiri had pledged to continue Rouhani's moderate policies.
Their rejection could spark protests in the country or even an election boycott. A low turnout could be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the entire system.
After two terms in office, Rouhani is no longer allowed to run.
He has reportedly written to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asking for the decision to be revised - a move that observers do not exclude.
The constitution gives Khamenei the final say on all political matters.