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Iran's Reformists Get Their Candidate?


Iran’s looming elections in June got a bit more interesting over the weekend.

First, a criminal complaint was opened against President Ahmadinejad by Iran’s Guardian Council, a committee of powerful clerics who interpret Iran’s constitution and supervise the elections. The complaint against Ahmadinejad is for openly endorsing Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, his close adviser, whom he’s been grooming to succeed him. Analysts have long speculated that Iran’s mullahs will take steps to disqualify Mashaei, whom many view as ideologically “deviant”, but the move to censure the sitting President has raised eyebrows. No charges have been pressed so far based on the official complaint, reports the Wall Street Journal. Ahmadinejad, for his part, defended himself by saying that he had taken the day off from being Iran’s President Saturday when he had made the endorsement of Mashaei.

Second, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared his candidacy on Saturday, right at the very last moment for doing so. Rafsanjani, who publicly supported the Green Movement in 2009, poses a much more direct challenge to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rule. At the same time, the FT reports, Khamenei may find it more difficult to sideline Rafsanjani the way they had planned to do with Mashaei. A switch in tactics may therefore be in the offing:

To have a peaceful election with a credibly high turnout, many analysts believe that the regime’s power centres, notably the elite Revolutionary Guards, had planned to engineer an election where several fundamentalist candidates loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei could compete with each other.

Mr Rafsanjani’s entry into the race has emerged as a game-changer, however, and the supreme leader is likely to adjust.

Ali-Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and adviser to Iran’s supreme leader who has also registered as a candidate, said on Sunday that various fundamentalist groups now needed to unite, in a shift from previous positions.

“We would not step back under any conditions from our determination not to let anyone who has differences with the supreme leader to take hold of the country’s affairs,” he said in a clear reference to Mr Rafsanjani.

This may mean, he indicated, that fundamentalists such as himself and Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf could withdraw in favour of Saeed Jalili, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator.

So Iran’s reformists may have their candidate, and Khamenei may have a real fight on his hands. Much can (and undoubtedly will) happen between now and June 14, but with the Middle East in turmoil, this could be the most important event to watch this summer.

[Photo of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani courtesy of Getty Images]

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