x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iran hardliners urge election ban on top rivals

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers petition authorities to bar two prominent presidential contenders - a moderate former president and a protégé of current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - from running in next month's election in a further sign of intense political jockeying over the final ballot list.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and his close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, flash victory signs at the start of their press conference, after registering Mr Mashaei’s candidacy for the upcoming presidential election.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and his close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, flash victory signs at the start of their press conference, after registering Mr Mashaei’s candidacy for the upcoming presidential election.

TEHRAN // Hard-line Iranian lawmakers petitioned authorities yesterday to bar two prominent presidential contenders - a moderate former president and a protégé of current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - from running in next month's election in a further sign of intense political jockeying over the final ballot list.

The appeal by nearly 100 parliament members reflects worries over the potential election-swaying influence of ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close confident of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Both could pull votes from two different directions - Mr Rafsanjani appealing to reformists and Mr Mashaei favoured by Mr Ahmadinejad's backers - and shift attention away from other potential front-runners with close ties to the ruling clerics.

Mr Mashaei faces an uphill battle to get his name on the June 14 ballot because of Mr Ahmadinejad's political feuds with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr Rafsanjani, however, is perhaps too venerable to be rejected by the election overseers, known as the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates and is expected to announce the ballot list next week.

In a pre-emptive move, the pro-establishment lawmakers - accounting for more than a third of the 290-seat parliament - appealed to the Guardian Council to knock both from the election race.

One of the lawmakers, Javad Karimi Qodoosi, said they want Mr Rafsanjani barred for supporting the opposition in the disputed 2009 vote and Mr Mashaei disqualified for his alleged un-Islamic attitudes.

Hardliners have accused Mr Mashaei as being the leader of a "deviant current" that seeks to undermine Islamic rule. Some critics have even claimed he conjured black magic spells to fog Mr Ahmadinejad's mind.

Mr Ahmadinejad can't run due to term limits under Iran's constitution, so he is seeking one of his loyalists to succeed him.

Mr Rafsanjani, meanwhile, has emerged as the best hope for pro-reform voters and liberals, who have faced relentless crackdowns since protests over alleged voter fraud in Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.

The entry of Mr Rafsanjani and Mr Mashaei has changed Iran's election equation, raising a tough challenge to conservative candidates loyal to Mr Khamenei.

Four major candidates are in the list that hardliners support. They include top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and prominent lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel.

Mr Khamenei has given no hints publicly on the candidate he favours, but close advisers such as Mr Velayati and Mr Jalili are likely to have strong backing from the ruling clerics.