Finanacial Times: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani announced on Tuesday he would stand in the June 17 Iranian presidential election for the post he previously held between 1989 and 1997. In a written statement, Mr Rafsanjani called the decision “one of the most difficult of all my years of political activity”, … Finanacial Times
By Gareth Smyth in Tehran
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani announced on Tuesday he would stand in the June 17 Iranian presidential election for the post he previously held between 1989 and 1997.
In a written statement, Mr Rafsanjani called the decision “one of the most difficult of all my years of political activity”, but said he was concerned by “the emergence of radical trends [in domestic politics”>” and “sensitive regional and global conditions”.
The announcement followed a day of frantic political speculation in Tehran, but came before a meeting scheduled between Mr Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, which one of Mr Rafsanjani’s allies said was to sort out “issues” concerning the election.
An election with the supreme leader backing a candidate against Mr Rafsanjani could be hazardous for the regime, which usually keeps serious differences behind closed doors.
The dangers of a divisive election are compounded by the growing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme, with stalled talks with the European Union likely to collapse if Iran resumes part of its uranium enrichment activity in the next few days.
Mr Rafsanjani apparently delayed his decision in fear of “character assassination” by militant conservatives, who resent his brand of conservative pragmatism and the way his supporters portray him as the only man able to deal with the international situation.
But the 70-year-old former president has nonetheless faced growing criticism from Iran’s hard-line media, and eyebrows have been raised at the way Ayatollah Khamenei has apparently lent weight to the anti-Rafsanjani campaign.
One senior official warned against being misled by appearances. “The leader’s relationship with [Mr”> Rafsanjani is like marriage, or a love-hate relationship,” he said. “If the country faces a crisis, the leader will accept Mr Rafsanjani standing.”
But in a ten-day tour of the southern province of Kerman, Ayatollah Khamenei’s speeches have emphasised security, which some analysts see as a message in favour of a militant conservative candidate, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and police chief.
Nominations for the presidential election opened on Tuesday and close on Saturday before would-be candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council, the Islamic watchdog body.
At least five militant conservatives, including Mr Qalibaf, have said they will stand, although analysts expect the hard-line camp to coalesce around one candidate, even if this requires intervention by the leader’s office.
Polls reported by the Iranian media have put Mr Rafsanjani at around 30 per cent, clearly ahead of other candidates, but with a low turn-out expected, the election remains unpredictable.
If no candidate wins over 50 per cent on June 17, there will be a run-off two weeks later between the two candidates who poll best in the first round. The election marks the end of the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who must stand down after two terms in office.