Iran: Guardian Council Clears Presidential Field for Conservatives

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An Iranian worker sets the printing machine to release printed electoral posters of moderate presidential candidate and former top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, at a printing house in Tehran on 26 May 2013. (Photo: AFP - Behrouz Mehri)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Sunday, May 26, 2013

Iran’s Guardian Council removed two key candidates from the race, giving conservative candidates the edge in the upcoming June 15 presidential election.

Two key presidential candidates in Iran’s presidential election – Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei – were disqualified by the Guardian Council, signaling Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s reluctance to see the two men in the race.

Rafsanjani, a former president and the country’s richest man, is said to have grudgingly thrown his name into the hat at the urging of reformists like former president Mohammad Khatami, who believed that he had the best chance of winning.

Mashaei, who is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, entered the race with the president’s unswerving support despite strong indications that he would not make it past the Guardian Council’s vetting process, particularly after Khamenei had refused his appointment to the post of first vice president.

Sources from the Rafsanjani camp say that in addition to Khatami, the bazaar’s powerful merchants had urged the former president to consider entering the race for fear that Mashaei might win.

While Rafsanjani appears to have resigned himself to the Guardian Council’s decision, declaring that he does not plan to appeal, Mashaei’s camp will likely pursue the issue with the supreme leader, according to statements made by Ahmadinejad at a recent cabinet meeting.

Sources following the proceedings of the Guardian Council report that Rafsanjani was disqualified for two reasons. The first has to do with his health, whereby the former president himself openly admitted several months ago that he is not in a condition to carry out presidential duties.

The second is related to his relationship to the so-called Green Movement that sprung up around the controversial 2009 presidential election, which Khamenei and the conservatives view as having overstepped the bounds of the core principles of the Islamic Republic. Rafsanjani has done little over the past four years to convince them otherwise.

The removal of Rafsanjani and Mashaei has left the field open for the conservatives, who can now choose among several strong candidates, the most favored among them being Mayor of Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili.

Among those opposing the conservative camp is centrist and longtime politician Hassan Rouhani. Although he is close to Rafsanjani, Rouhani is not expected to carry the same weight, as he will likely lose reformist voters to either a boycott – which some reformists factions have called for – or to the remaining reformist candidates, who have little or no chance of winning.

The one remaining unknown factor is where will Ahmadinejad’s supporters go? Some suggest that they will likely vote for Jalili as he represents the government in the current line-up. As for voter turnout in these difficult circumstances, participation levels are expected to range from 60 to 70 percent.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Hassan Rowhani and Dr. Aref are not conservatives. Hassan Rowhani is very close to former President Rafsanjani and Dr. Aref is a reformist who was President Khatami's first vice-president.

Ayatollah Khamenei had nothing to do with the disqualifications. Two of the most important arguments that are being put forward against Mr. Rafsanjani is his age and that four years ago he and his supporters rejected the validity of the presidential results. However, the question is if the mechanism for this electoral process in Iran is so deeply flawed then what is the justification for his candidacy? His standing for the election means he accepts the legitimacy of the electoral process and that this undermines the position he took four years ago which caused unrest in parts of Tehran. In addition if Rafsanjani loses this election, who is to say his followers are not going to cause trouble? People already have an experience with him where his side lost and yet he failed to accept the democratic process. In other words, he can't have his cake and eat it to.

Mashaei on the other hand is not a political heavyweight, he’s never had a high ranking official position and this prevents him from standing as president. However most importantly what led to his disqualification is the fact that Mashaei broke the law when he and the president used government funding for his unofficial campaign in numerous provinces and in Tehran over the past two or three months. Also since campaigning officially began 3 days ago, Mashaei's unofficial campaign was also widely viewed as illegal.

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