TEHRAN – The final list of candidates approved to run in Iran’s June 14 presidential election was announced Tuesday, generating surprise and tension with the omission of a former president considered one of the founding members of the Islamic Republic.
In addition to two-term ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was also disqualified from the ballot, although no immediate reason was given why. 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 current mayor, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 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 patrolled Tehran’s streets in the days after the contested 2009 re-election of 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 dogged 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.
Among the eight approved candidates, only two are considered to be nonconservatives: 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 day ballots.