Rafsanjani Challenges Conservatives for Iran’s Presidency

Rafsanjani Challenges Conservatives for Iran’s Presidency

Michael Johnson

Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani registered to compete in Iran’s upcoming presidential race on Saturday. The well-known 78-year-old former president is viewed as a relative moderate and could pose a challenge to the religious establishment’s favored candidates. Mohammad Khatami, another reformist president, also endorsed Rafsanjani on Friday.

Iran’s current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accompanied his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as he also registered his candidacy Saturday. Government officials rebuked Ahmadinejad for escorting Mashaei, saying such conduct could lead to up to six months in prison. Seen as another wild card, Mashaei does not enjoy much popularity among religious conservatives in Qoms but could change the balance of power in the election.

Iranian presidential candidate Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie (L) with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran (Photo: EPA)

Iran’s 11th presidential election is scheduled to be held on June 14th, with the winner receiving a four year term. If no candidate receives more than half the vote, a second round will be scheduled for June 21. The powerful Guardian Council oversees the election with six clergymen and six jurists vetting each candidate. The Council reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insuring he maintains influence over who the winning candidate can be. While the criteria to register as a candidate remains loose, in 2009, only four out of 476 registered nominees were allowed to finally contest the presidency. A three week campaign period begins after the members of the Guardian Council announce a list of approved candidates on May 23. Over 680 candidates have registered for the election, including more than a dozen women, from a wide variety of political views.

After the Islamic Republic’s last election conservative authorities continue to hold reformist politicians under, what human rights groups call, “arbitrary” house arrest. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, both leading contenders in Iran’s 2009 elections, hoped to limit the power of religious authorities.

The addition of a prominent reformist, Rafsanjani, and a populist Ahmadinejad supporter, Mashaei, has complicated the election for pro-establishment religious conservatives loyal to the Supreme Leader. Such a tripolar political system could pose challenges for Khamenei and Iran’s traditional power structure.