x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Khamenei endorses Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad's presidency was endorsed by Iran's supreme leader, while the opposition boycotts ceremony as police take to the streets.

Courtesy Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei's website.
Courtesy Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei's website.

TEHRAN // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency was endorsed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, in a ceremony in Tehran yesterday that was boycotted by defeated candidates and opposition leaders, including Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karrubi, Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts.

The ceremony, attended by high-ranking state officials and a number of foreign envoys in Tehran, was held at the supreme leader's compound in downtown Tehran. According to Iran's constitution, a presidency has to be endorsed by the country's supreme leader to become effective. Despite prior announcements, the ceremony was not broadcast live on state television. In his endorsement decree, Mr Khamenei said the people's vote for the "hard-working and intelligent" Mr Ahmadinejad was a vote for "brave confrontation against international domineering powers" and a "battle against poverty and corruption, discrimination and a fight against aristocracy".

But he warned Mr Ahmadinejad that the "angry, wounded opposition" would continue challenging his government and told him to heed the views of his critics, in a possible reference to a row between the president and his own conservative supporters. He added that the post-election unrest "warns us that the enemy is always waiting in ambush and ignoring the possibility of attacks by them can be very dangerous, even in the best possible circumstances".

Throughout the day, riot police deployed in force in key parts of Tehran and prevented opposition supporters from staging protests over Mr Ahmadinejad's endorsement. Witnesses said hundreds of opposition supporters tried to stage a demonstration at Vali Asr Square but they were prevented from gathering by riot police. "The police presence was strong but there were no clashes," one witness said. "The people were not very aggressive and left when police told them to."

Mr Ahmadinejad will be sworn in tomorrow at a different ceremony in the parliament. He is required by law to present his cabinet to the parliament for a vote of confidence within two weeks of being sworn in. He is expected to face tough resistance over the course of his presidency even from the conservative and hardline majority faction in the parliament. Many blame Mr Ahmadinejad for Iran's flagging economy and there was strong criticism of his choice of cabinet members, which alienated many former allies.

Mohsen Rezaie, Mr Ahmadinejad's only conservative rival in the elections, attended the ceremony. However, a day before the ceremony was held, Omidvar Rezai, Mr Rezaie's brother and spokesman, said Mr Rezaie's attendance at the ceremony was out of respect for the supreme leader and could not be interpreted as "total approval of Mr Ahmadinejad". "Mohsen Rezaie believes that the issue of the country's security and unity should not be enforced at the cost of ignoring the nation's rights," Omidvar Rezai was quoted by Tabnak news portal as saying.

Mohsen Rezaie had challenged the results of the June 12 elections, in which Mr Ahmadinejad supposedly won by 24 million votes, along with the reformist candidates, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi. In a statement released several weeks earlier, Mr Karrubi had announced that he would not participate in any ceremonies related to the inauguration of Mr Ahmadinejad's presidency. Mr Mousavi's refusal to attend the ceremony had also been expected.

Among the dignitaries absent from Mr Ahmadinejad's endorsement ceremony was Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the custodian of Ayatollah Khomeini's shrine. Mr Rafsanjani, who, unlike the others still holds a prominent place in government and leads two of the country's most influential councils, is considered the highest profile absentee from the ceremony.

His refusal to attend is largely expected to bring fresh attacks on him from the supporters of Mr Ahmadinejad who consider him the president's arch foe. Mr Rafsanjani had said would only participate in the ceremony if he received an apology from Mr Ahmadinejad for accusations levelled against him and his family members in a televised debate with Mr Mousavi before the election, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported on Sunday.

Mr Rafsanjani, who had run unsuccessfully against Mr Ahmadinejad in 2005, withheld any direct response to Mr Ahmadinejad's accusations prior to the elections but wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei in which he alleged that the attacks on his family members had been motivated by a wish to overshadow the Ahmadinejad government's own financial corruption. In the same letter he warned that if the same attitude was followed by the president a crisis might blight the country's future.

Mr Rafsanjani, who had not openly supported any of the four candidates before the elections, rose to the defence of the defeated candidates and their supporters in a Friday prayer sermon two weeks ago. Mr Rafsanjani has also questioned the reliability of the televised trial confessions of Mohammad Ali Abtahi and Mohammad Atrianfar, two leading reformists arrested after the disputed elections, along with Mr Mousavi, Mr Karrubi and Mr Khatami, a close ally of the two reformist candidates who called the mass trials "a show trial".

@Email:msinaiee@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse