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Ahmadinejad blocked from running in Iran presidential – elections

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian hardliner who presided over a period of deepening and damaging sanctions, has been blocked from running for president in Iran’s elections next year.

The former president’s hopes were dashed after the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated in public that he did not see the prospect of his candidacy as being in the interests of the country.

In a letter published on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad announced he would not be running, submitting to the wishes of the 77-year-old ayatollah.

Ahmadinejad blocked from running in Iran presidential - elections
Ahmadinejad blocked from running in Iran presidential – elections

It comes after months of speculation that Ahmadinejad had been building up a campaign to confront the current president, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, in next year’s vote. Rouhani has to seek re-election if he wants to remain in power for another four years. Under Iranian law, presidents are only allowed two consecutive terms.

Earlier this month, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that the supreme leader had explicitly told Ahmadinejad he should not run. Later, two conservative politicians confirmed those reports.

On Monday, Khamenei’s official website, in an apparent move to put his opinion on the record, published the transcription of his speech during a meeting with a group of his followers.

“Someone came to see me and considering his own interests and the interests of the country, I told him he should not participate in that matter [elections],” Khamenei is quoted as saying. “I didn’t tell him not to participate, I told him I won’t recommend him participating.”

In his letter on Tuesday, which was addressed to Khamenei, Ahmadinejad revealed he had a meeting with the leader at the end of last month, during which he was told not to run.

“You recommended that it was not in [my] interests to run in the elections and I stated my obedience,” he wrote.

In theory, Ahmadinejad can still put his name on the list as a nominee and the supreme leader does not have the automatic power to block him. In practice, however, the ayatollah has the ultimate power in all state matters.

The Guardian Council, a body of jurists and clerics who are close to Khamenei, vets all candidates before any elections in Iran, in a process that has been the subject of much controversy. There has been a heated debate over whether the Guardian Council has the constitutional footing to block candidates but in recent years, it has blocked many reformists and independents, as well as conservatives, from running in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Despite the vetting process, which has raised questions about the fairness of Iranian elections, turnouts are usually high in presidential elections. Iranian leaders say the level of participation means the elections are legitimate.

The 2013 vote that put Rouhani in power was a contest between six candidates, all of whom were approved by the Guardian Council.

In the months leading up to this week’s news, Ahmadinejad had indicated that he wanted to run, including by visiting provinces, becoming more active online and speaking at more occasions.

It is not clear why Khamenei decided to make the issue public, but Ahmadinejad seemed to have continued his activities despite their meeting.

The relationship between the two was fraught in the final years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency because of a power struggle at the height of the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad took extraordinary measures to confront Khamenei, including threatening to resign. He was sidelined as Rouhani took office in 2013 but has become active.

Iranian elections have been full of surprises in recent years and it is not clear if Rouhani would face similar difficulties if he seeks re-election.

Khamenei has his own differences with Rouhani – he appears concerned about Rouhani’s associates, particularly his brother, Hossein Fereydoun.

The ayatollah has made several controversial interventions, most notably in 2009 when he sided with Ahmadinejad against allegations of fraud, which led to a turbulent time in Iran.

The reverberations of that event are felt even today, with two of the four presidential candidates in the 2009 vote, who alleged the elections were stolen, still placed under arrest at the wishes of the leader.

Ahmadinejad and Rouhani are at odds over multiple domestic and foreign policies, particularly over last year’s landmark nuclear deal, which the latter agreed to. Some believe that as a relatively young politician in Iran, Ahmadinejad and his inner circle may have their eyes on the period after Khamenei, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014.

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