Iran: Rafsanjani Fights His Last Battle

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Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani arrives to register his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on 11 May 2013. (Photo: AFP - Behrouz Mehri)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Close to 900 candidates registered to run in Iran’s presidential election, due to be held in mid-June. Of the 37 well-known politicians that entered the race, many were surprised by the last-minute entry of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The running joke in Tehran over the past two days, as hundreds of candidates rushed to register for the country’s presidential election, is that “there is no official left in Iran that hasn’t entered the election.”

By far, the biggest surprise was the announcement of the candidacy of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s fourth president and one of the country’s richest men.

Informed sources in the Iranian capital deny rumors that Rafsanjani’s step had the blessings of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, suggesting that this was the former president’s own decision and it is likely to be the last of its kind, as it will meet with complete failure.

Rafsanjani issued a statement on his official website saying that he was running “for the sake of the nation,” and plans to “work in the interest of all parties,” promising a program of moderation that would include all religions, ethnicities, sects, and political currents.

On the foreign policy front, Rafsanjani declared that it will be based on “easing tensions in Iran’s regional and international relations, as well as an open and honest dialogue to solve differences and avoid conflict.”

Last week, Rafsanjani had come out criticizing the political situation in Iran, pointing to foreign threats and particularly the impact of Western sanctions on the country’s economy. He confirmed then that he “will not run in the elections without the blessings of the supreme leader.”

This prompted a chorus of conservative leaders to unleash a barrage of criticism against Rafsanjani, accusing him of being soft on Washington and describing him as overly anxious to establish close relations with the Arab Gulf sheikdoms, not to mention his questionable position around the controversial 2009 presidential elections.

It appears that Rafsanjani made his decision to run after encouragement from the popular reformist and former president, Mohammad Khatami, who threw his weight behind Rafsanjani, arguing that he was the strongest candidate the reformists could field in the current situation.

Khatami calculated that the regime would likely reject his own candidacy, claiming that such a step will only exacerbate tensions with the conservative-leaning supreme leader and undermine the reformists in their bid to make a political comeback.

The other surprise of the presidential elections was the entry – also on the last day of registration – of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s preferred successor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who many observers believe will not make it past the vetting process carried out by the Guardian Council.

Already the council has lodged a legal complaint against the president for accompanying Mashaei to the interior ministry to register his name.

Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesperson for the Guardian Council, said the council's supervisory board unanimously agreed that “the...actions of the president in introducing an individual as an election candidate constituted a violation and were criminal.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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