Ahmadinejad to appeal ally's removal from Iran's presidential race

Even if Ayatollah Khamenei approves the candidacy of President Ahmadinejad's preferred successor, the disqualification of two top candidates has already damaged the election's legitimacy.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks with journalists, during a press conference after registering his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, at the election headquarters of the interior ministry, in Tehran, Iran, May 11. Ahmadinejad says he will seek the reinstatement of Mr. Mashaei candidacy in next month's presidential elections by appealing to Iran's supreme leader.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he will seek the reinstatement of his ally's candidacy in next month's presidential elections by appealing to Iran's supreme leader, the only official with the power to overturn the ban issued yesterday by the country's Guardian Council.

Iran's state-owned Press TV reports that Mr. Ahmadinejad said he will ask Ayatollah Khamenei to approve by decree the candidacy of his former chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third term under Iranian law, has publicly backed Mr. Mashaei as his political heir. But Iran's Guardian Council, which must approve all presidential candidates, decided against letting Mashaei run.

Reacting to the Council’s decision on Mashaei, Ahmadinejad said, “I ask those who support me and Mr. Mashaei to be patient, because there will be no problem because of the presence of the Leader [of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei],” Ahmadinejad told reporters on Wednesday.

While the Council's decisions are technically not subject to appeal, the supreme leader is able to approve a candidate for election by decree.

But Reuters writes that observers are skeptical that Khamenei will do so, given that he likely had a hand in barring Mashaei and the Guardian Council's other prominent barred candidate, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter of nuclear and other affairs of state, is seen as wanting a more docile president than the turbulent Ahmadinejad. He could reinstate the two heavyweight challengers by decree, but analysts said this was unlikely.

"Khamenei surely signaled to the Guardian Council ... that he did not want Rafsanjani or Mashaie to run," said Cliff Kupchan of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. "The Leader wants a pliant president and a calm election."

The disqualification of Mr. Rafsanjani was a surprise, The Christian Science Monitor reports, given his political prominence and ties to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

[Rafsanjani] has been a regime stalwart for a generation and engineered the elevation of Khamenei to his "supreme" post, but was sympathetic to the 2009 post-election protests. The Council hinted yesterday that physical fitness would be a new criteria, and the 78-year-old might not pass.

For the Islamic Republic, the June 14 election could not be more important. Both inside and outside Iran it is seen as a critical step to restoring legitimacy to a regime tainted by the last presidential poll in 2009, which resulted in street protests against fraud, calls of “death to the dictator” – in reference to Ayatollah Khamenei – and a violent government crackdown that earned widespread condemnation....

Allowing Rafsanjani and Mashaei to run would have boosted the legitimacy of the election, writes Meir Javedanfar in an analysis for Al-Monitor. But for Iran's conservative leaders, stability is even more important than legitimacy, and "The rewards of allowing Meshai and Rafsanjani to run simply do not seem to have justified the high cost, as both would most likely have publicly questioned policies directly involving the domain of the supreme leader," Mr. Javedanfar writes.

Take Rafsanjani, for example: He's the most senior person in Iran to have stated publicly that the chances of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's survival are small. Some conservatives inside the regime saw this as a gift to Iran's enemies, while others could have interpreted this as his criticism of the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) continued support for Assad. Had Rafsanjani been allowed to run, he could have brought this and the current nuclear policy up as election issues. This would have exposed such policies to public scrutiny, and criticism, none of which the supreme leader and the IRGC want in the public domain.

The Guardian Council's decision means that Iran's next president will be "drawn from a slate of conservative candidates in Iran’s ruling camp, a loose alliance of Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders," reports The New York Times. "That would put the last major state institution under their control — the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction."

One of the frontrunners in the race is Saeed Jalili, Iran's lead negotiator in nuclear talks with the international community. The Monitor's Scott Peterson profiled him yesterday.

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