The two most well-known candidates in Iran’s approaching presidential election were disqualified Tuesday, and the decision by the country’s 12-member Guardian Council, which vets candidates, has frustrated many in the country. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is the chief aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, both had widespread appeal. The remaining candidates do not have established support, writes Jason Rezaian:
With Iran’s field of presidential hopefuls now clear, the list of mostly conservative nominees begin their official campaigning Wednesday, apparently free from the challenges of the two most talked-about candidates . . .
With the two most high-profile candidates gone from the race, the challenge for the ruling system now becomes how to revive some of the initial interest that was sparked by the surprise candidacies of Rafsanjani and Mashaei. How Iran’s leaders intend to do that is unclear, and there are already signs that voter participation could suffer because of the big-name disqualifications. (Read the full article here.)
Rafsanjani has historically supported a less hostile relationship with the United States. When he was president in 1995, he offered a contract to a U.S. firm to develop an oil field in Iran, Max Fisher writes:
Such a move — inviting Americans into Iran and its lucrative oil fields after years of searing conflict — was taken by some as a show of good faith . . .
But the deal fell through. The Clinton administration, believing that it could not at once sanction Iran while profiting from its oil without appearing brazenly hypocritical, scuttled it with a special executive order. Rapprochement, as it has done since, slipped away.
Fisher writes that with Rafsanjani out of the running, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, appears likely to win:
Inflexible, ideological and a close ally of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he is far from a shoe-in but appears, at the moment, to be a potential front-runner.
“Khamenei is watching carefully to see how the candidates do, how they present themselves, who does and who doesn’t gain traction,” Brookings analyst Suzanne Maloney told the Los Angeles Times. “But my interpretation is that he would favor the nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.”
Though a candidate’s rhetoric is of course an imperfect predictor of how they might behave in office, Jalili has time and again shown himself to be a staunch critic of the United States, an advocate of strict or confrontational foreign policy and, apparently, a strong believer that Iran is on the right path. (Read the rest at WorldViews.)