London, 21 Apr – Six politicians were approved to run in Iran’s presidential election, but the former hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wasn’t one of them. The list of candidates who had applied to run for president ran to more than 1,600 other nominees, including 137 female candidates, as well as Ahmadinejad. According to the final list of approved candidates announced on Thursday, all but six have been disqualified.
The guardian council, a group of jurists and clerics who vet all candidates, approved six politicians to run, including the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s Interior Ministry confirmed.
Besides Rouhani, those on the list are Ebrahim Raisi, a close ally of the country’s supreme leader; the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf; Rouhani’s first deputy, Eshaq Jahangiri; and relatively low-profile politicians Mostafa Agha Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.
The council’s decision displays the deteriorating relationship between the Iranian establishment and Ahmadinejad. His re-election in 2009 plunged the country into upheaval.
The presidential race will probably end up being a three-man race between Rouhani, Raisi and Ghalibaf. The candidacy of Jahangiri has been announced as a tactical move, and it is believed that he intends to drop out in favor of Rouhani. However, Raisi’s surprise entry in the race threatens what was expected to be an easy win for Rouhani’s second term. Raisi rose to prominence this past year, and is touted as a possible successor to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A coalition of conservatives known as the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, or Jamna, which Raisi and Ghalibaf both belonged to, originally said that only one candidate would run. But the men have distanced themselves from the coalition. Analysts say a defeat would ruin Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, so he is likely to drop out.
Ahmadinejad surprised observers by registering to run last week, despite Khamenei suggesting that he stay out of the race. He had kept the decision secret, and registration officials were stunned when he took his national ID out and asked to apply.
Although Khamenei took Ahmadinejad’s side in the aftermath of his re-election in 2009, their relationship was upset during the final years of Ahmadinejad’s two term presidency.
Ahmadinejad oversaw an uncertain period of international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. He maintains a considerable following in Iran among conservatives, so his disqualification could hurt the establishment.
According to commentators, Ahmadinejad and his inner circle may have their sights set on the period after Khamenei, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014. His disqualification may reestablish his credibility among the constituency who are critical of the current Iranian regime.
The list of former Iranian presidents who have fallen out with the establishment after leaving office includes:
• Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president, whose 2013 backing was crucial to Rouhani. Although they appear to have been relaxed as the 19 May elections approach, there were restrictions that banned the media from using his name or images.
• Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died earlier this year, was not allow to run in the 2013 presidential elections.
• Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first post-revolutionary president, currently lives in exile.
Some social media reactions were angry after Ahmadinejad’s exclusion. “Disqualifying candidates is illegal. If Ahmadinejad has committed a crime, why hasn’t been put on trial all these years?” tweeted Iranian user @sahartwitt, who added, “We are opposed to the disqualifications of the Guardian Council, it’s not right for the council to decide what the people are meant to decide.”
Iranian poet Fatemeh Shams wrote on her Facebook page: “[Ahmadinejad’s] eight years of presidency came at the cost of so much blood, imprisonment, house arrest and exile. It took the [supreme] leader a long time to come to the very same conclusion as that of the Green movement supporters in 2009. And the leaders of the Green movement [Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi] are still under house arrest after 6 years. What a dirty show.”
The National Council of Resistance of Iran published an article about Ahmadinejad’s removal, calling it “an internal surgery, marking terminal phase of the Iranian regime’s rule.”
They say that Ahmadinejad’s nomination despite Khamenei’s opposition, and his disqualification that followed, indicate a new escalation in the regime’s infighting, and weakness within Khamenei’s own faction.
Khamenei engineered the 2005 and 2009 elections with the help of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and appointed Ahmadinejad as president, according to the NCRI, who add that Khamenei repeatedly announced that “he preferred Ahmadinejad to others, including Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.”