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As Iran’s Election Nears…

There has long been a rift between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s clerical edifice, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which once supported him. That rift threatens to widen as Iran’s presidential election draws near. Ahmadinejad’s time is up, and between now and June’s election, a two-way battle could be waged between Ahmadinejad’s populist allies and Khamenei’s ruling clergy, with reformers on the outside looking in.

A Reuters report shows just how serious this fight could get. Ahmadinejad, Iran’s first non-clerical president since 1981, is seen to be backing his former chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whom the mullahs regard as a nationalist “deviant” and a challenge to clerical authority:

“So magical is the political prowess attributed to Mashaie and Ahmadinejad’s populist appeal that Mashaie’s prospective candidacy causes much concern in the Khamenei camp,” said Shaul Bakhash, professor at George Mason University in the United States, weighing prospects for the election in mid-June.

The 2009 election is fresh in Khamenei’s memory. Everyone still recalls the regime’s violent suppression of popular protests, immortalized by the video of a young woman shot dead in the street. To avert another international embarrassment, the mullahs are keen to block Mashaei’s name from even appearing on the ballot, leaving hardliners loyal to Khamenei as the only possible victors of the election. Reuters reports that an alliance of loyalists is likely to unite behind one of three candidates, including Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser and close confidant, Ali Akbar Velayati. Mashaei and Velayati are names we’re likely to hear in the coming months. Via Meadia will be watching.

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