TEHRAN — A former president supported by Iran’s moderates and considered a founding member of the Islamic republic was disqualified Tuesday from running in the coming election, generating surprise and tension.
In addition to two-term ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad’s top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was also disqualified from the June 14 presidential ballot, although no immediate reason was given. Both men were last-minute and somewhat controversial registrants, but their omission could cause a backlash from rivals of Iran’s conservative establishment.
Conservatives including Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and the country’s lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, dominate the list of eight candidates approved by the Guardian Council.
Large groups of riot police, the kind that were on Tehran’s streets in the days after the contested 2009 reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, patrolled on motorcycles throughout the capital Tuesday for the first time in more than a year, perhaps in anticipation of the candidate announcement.
Many people had anticipated Mashaei’s disqualification because of attempts he and Ahmadinejad had made to undermine the authority of Iran’s clergy. But Rafsanjani’s removal from the race was less expected, despite a systematic campaign to discredit the 78-year-old’s potential candidacy that began almost as soon as he signed up Saturday in the final moments of the registration process.
Although criticisms of his record and long-standing allegations of corruption have followed him for years, some observers said it was perhaps Rafsanjani’s advanced age, which his detractors focused on over the weekend, that led to his disqualification.
Rafsanjani is acknowledging and apparently accepting his disqualification, turning attention to how Mashaei and Ahmadinejad will respond to the decision.
With no other candidates from their political alliance running, domestic news agencies carried a statement late Tuesday night from Mashaei’s campaign asking for reconsideration of the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify him.
“We ask our supreme leader to help us in this case, because we know that under his leadership there will not be any injustices or if any mistakes have been made they can be corrected,” the statement read.
The council’s spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, however, told state television that there would be no period for appeals as official campaigning begins Thursday.
Among the eight approved candidates, only two are considered to be non-conservatives: Mohammad Aref, who served as vice president during reformist Mohammad Khatami’s first term, and Hassan Rouhani, who was Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator during the Rafsanjani and Khatami years.
Rouhani is closely aligned with both former presidents, and his campaign is expected to receive their support.
Although it appears unlikely this time, candidates in previous elections have successfully appealed disqualifications by the Guardian Council, going on to appear on election ballots.