Suspense over Rafsanjani as Iran election hopefuls sign up

As more than 190 candidates signed up to stand in Iran’s presidential election for a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, media attention is focusing on a potential runner who hasn’t registered.

Ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s family and supporters sent out mixed signals about whether he’s preparing to put his name forward. Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s best-connected politicians, has allies among conservatives while he also expressed sympathy with the opposition that emerged in 2009 during post-vote protests.

Effat Marashi, Rafsanjani’s wife, said yesterday that her husband will “definitely” not take part in the race, according to Tehran-based daily Shargh. In Etemaad newspaper, though, his brother Mohammad Hashemi was quoted as saying that the chances of a bid have increased “following requests made to him,” even though Rafsanjani had been set on staying out of the race.

With Iran engaged in a standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear program, and the economy feeling the pain of economic sanctions, the Islamic republic’s clerical rulers have signaled they aim to avoid a repeat of the unrest that followed the last election four years ago.

Protests broke out after Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, amid accusations that Mir Hossein Mousavi, a candidate backed by reformists, was deprived of victory through ballot fraud. The authorities clamped down on demonstrations, leaving several people dead and arresting hundreds.

Past ‘Errors’

Some 144 presidential hopefuls had signed up by yesterday, the Interior Ministry said on its website. Another 48 registered this morning, bringing the total to 192, according to state television. Registration ends on May 11. Iran’s Guardian Council, half of whose members are clerics nominated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vets all candidates and usually reduces the field to less than 10.

This year, the council will restrict the race to politicians who “in their hearts have a belief” in the Islamic Republic and its constitution, said spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, Etemaad reported on May 2. He added that “perhaps some errors have been committed in the past.”

Rafsanjani is among the founders of the Islamic republic and was its president from 1989 to 1997. He sought to regain the post in the 2005 election, losing to Ahmadinejad.

‘Imaginary Statistics’

As inflation surged and Iran’s currency slid under the pressure of sanctions, the former president has criticized the incumbent’s policies. A reduction in subsidies have failed to boost local production and only caused prices to rise, while the government has sought to conceal the impact with “imaginary statistics” about the economy, Rafsanjani said in February.

Rafsanjani is “convinced” that should he decide to run he will get approval from the Guardian Council, the Kayhan newspaper, whose head is appointed by Khamenei, wrote in an editorial yesterday. If Rafsanjani isn’t signing up it’s because of concern that he won’t have backing from voters, not from the guardians, the daily’s Editor-in-Chief Hossein Shariatmadari wrote. “This is the field he is scared of entering into.”

Rafsanjani said this week that he was assessing the situation. Running without Khamenei’s blessing would be “counterproductive,” he told an audience of university students in Tehran, Press TV reported May 6.

One candidate who has signed up is former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, who has ties to both Rafsanjani and another ex-president, Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami Out

Khatami, who stepped down in 2005 after two terms during which he eased restrictions on the media and dress codes for women, said the situation wasn’t ripe for him to run this time. He expressed support for a Rafsanjani candidacy, saying his participation would be “a victory for all,” according to the Tehran Times.

Other possible front-runners such as Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser and a lifelong loyalist, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf have yet to sign up. Ahmadinejad has been promoting his close aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, in recent governmental trips and is seen as grooming him for the race though neither has clarified his intentions.

By Bloomberg


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