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In Iran, Rafsanjani reacts to ejection from presidential race with relief, warnings

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was rejected from running in next month’s presidential election. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Two days after being disqualified from running in Iran’s upcoming presidential election, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani broke his silence Thursday, saying that difficult days loom for the country.

“Considering the present situation, the next government will face a lot of problems and difficulties as a result of mismanagement and unfair sanctions, and whoever is to lead the next government, we have to be thankful to him and help him,” Rafsanjani said as he met with his campaign team to close their headquarters in the capital.

The two-term ex-president did not criticize the vetting process carried out by the 12-member Guardian Council, which approved the candidacies of eight men out of nearly 700 applicants, but he told his supporters he was relieved to be out of the race.

“I knew about the difficulties that lay ahead of me,” he said in remarks published on his Web site and also reported in the domestic media.

He also said he had registered as a candidate for the June 14 ballot at the insistence of others. “From the beginning, I had mentioned that I was not ready to step forward, but many people and respected figures from everywhere inside and outside Iran asked me to step forward, and I felt it would be selfish not to respond,” he said.

Who will be the next president of Iran? Here are the eight candidates running in the upcoming presidential election.

Although many Iranians expressed shock that Rafsanjani, considered a founding father of the Islamic republic, was told he could not run to replace outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his campaign had faced long odds from the start.

A systematic effort by Iran’s conservative establishment to discredit his candidacy — targeting his vast wealth, his alleged corruption, his support for the 2009 post-election protest movement and, finally, his advanced age — dominated media coverage here from the moment Rafsanjani, 78, entered the race May 11.

Despite the attacks, Rafsanjani’s brief candidacy breathed unexpected life into a race many expected would feature mostly conservative candidates with close alliances to the dominant political order. With Tuesday’s announcement, that prediction was realized, leaving many Iranians uninspired about their choices.

Even as support for Rafsanjani swelled among ordinary people who see him as the man most qualified to address Iran’s economic and diplomatic problems, the ex-president also drew strong endorsements this week from descendants of other figures with central roles in Iran’s 1979 revolution and the birth of the Islamic republic.

On Wednesday, the daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic and its original leader, issued an open letter to her father’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, protesting Rafsanjani’s ejection.

“When I see today that the Guardian Council has rejected his qualification for the presidency, I would like to remind you as a sister that this action has no meaning other than creating a rift between the two friends of the Imam,” Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini wrote, referring to her father, in the letter published on the Khomeini family’s Web site.

Her nephew, Hassan Khomeini, a prominent cleric who runs the massive shrine near Tehran where his grandfather is buried, addressed a laudatory open letter to Rafsanjani suggesting that in this election he would have drawn broad working-class support for the first time.

“What makes me sincerely happy is the attention and respect that all classes of people in all parts of this country have conveyed toward you,” he wrote. “This attraction is attraction toward Imam Khomeini and his teachings. I was struck to see that almost 90 percent of those who came to the Imam shrine to pay respects were your supporters.”

The shrine is known not just as a place of pilgrimage for supporters of the revolution but also as a destination for mainly working-class Iranians.

Perhaps the most vivid endorsement came from lawmaker Ali Motahari, whose father, Morteza Motahari, was an Islamic scholar and cleric who helped formulate the ideological principles of the Islamic republic.

If Rafsanjani was disqualified because of his age or physical condition, Ali Motahari said Wednesday, he had a solution: “I suggest they arrange a 100-meter race between him and Jalili and a wrestling match between him and Haddad-Adel.”

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, lost part of his right leg in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former parliamentary speaker, is unusually thin. The Guardian Council approved both men’s candidacies.

Jason Rezaian served as The Post's correspondent in Tehran from 2012 to 2016. He spent 545 days unjustly imprisoned by Iranian authorities until his release in January 2016.

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