When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has put his name into Iran’s presidential elections race a couple of weeks ago, analysts said that the divisions inside the house of hardliners started to appear on the surface. These thoughts were affirmed when his name was excluded from the final list.
Rouhani won the presidency in 2013 with the backing of mainly of young people and women. He promised to bring Iran out of its international isolation and create a freer society.
But many ordinary Iranians have lost faith in him because he has not been able to improve the economy despite the lifting of sanctions in January last year under the nuclear deal.
Doubts have been cast on whether Hassan Rouhani will be capable of pulling off a victory as he is facing escalating criticizing from his rivals, the hardliners, who have nominated various figured to run for the presidency.
However, the hardliners’ nominations witnessed a surprise when the former president Ahmadinejad announced taking part in the upcoming Iranian elections despite warning from the supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the surprise move of registering for next month’s presidential election.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei revealed last year that he had recommended to Ahmadinejad not to enter the contest.
Khamenei’s backers accuse Ahmadinejad’s camp of pursuing an “Iranian” school of Islam, viewed as an inappropriate mix of religion and nationalism. Ahmadinejad may pay the price for disobeying Khamenei by running for president, analysts said.
“Khamenei will not forget this move, which was aimed to harm his image,” said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.
“[The decision] was an organized mutiny against Iran’s ruling system,” Soroush Farhadian, who backs political reformists, told the AP.
Iran’s policies can be better managed
In an interview recorded last week, a few days before announcing the final candidates’ list, he called for regional unity and claimed that it is possible to run Iran better than it is now.
Asked about the potential changes in his agenda after two four-year terms, and particularly in the fields of economics, politics and social issues, the former president said focussing on the people of Iran is a must.
“Today, in addition to past experience, a large part of our program aims at improving the economic conditions and the internal situation of the country … Our program is based on the fact that the wealth of the people must be returned to the people, and that all the people must play a role in running the country. Economically, the banking system must see a lot of reforms to be proportional to the demands of society and to put into account the Islamic laws, in addition to the determinants of production and services.”
On the “real revolution” that followed the end of his presidency, Ahmadinejad states that the term “revolution” is inapplicable and that the current government has not dramatically altered his policies nor has it created a world of change.
“What happened was not a revolution and this term is inaccurate. Revolution means to change the rules and foundations and this did not happen. When it comes to the economy, we are still in the same place and we suffer from some decline. Revolution holds the seeds of improvement and progress but what we see today is decline. When it comes to foreign policies, I do not see any real progress as our relations with so many of our neighbors are not in the best shape … I do not want to say that the default is caused by our government, but I will say that it is certainly possible to improve the current conditions and situations nationally and internationally as they are not better today than they were four years ago.”
This week, the country’s Guardian Council announced the candidates for president in the May 19 election. About 1,600 men and women had applied to run; the final list includes six names. As was widely expected, incumbent Hassan Rouhani will seek reelection. Other contenders include Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric who is close to Khamenei; Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a conservative former military officer; and Eshaq Jahangiri, a first vice president in Rouhani’s government.
Ahmadinejad’s name was nowhere to be seen.
On social media, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, an Ahmadinejad ally, tried to downplay the decision, writing that Ahmadinejad registered to run only out of “national, religious and revolutionary duty.” Referring to Ahmadinejad and his former vice president, who was also turned down, Javanfekr wrote: “Thank god, the Guardian Council removed the duty from their shoulders.”
Others didn’t take it as well. “Disqualifying candidates is illegal. If Ahmadinejad has committed a crime, why hasn’t been put on trial all these years?” tweeted Iranian user @sahartwitt. “We are opposed to the disqualifications of the Guardian Council, it’s not right for the council to decide what the people are meant to decide.”
That anger may be just what Ahmadinejad intended. Like supporters of populists around the world, his base is already suspicious of the political establishment. The supreme leader’s decision riled Ahmadinejad’s base and burnished his image as an opponent of the establishment.
Raisi and Ghalibaf belong to the same conservative coalition. If they both stay in the race, they may split the conservative vote and assure Rouhani’s victory, particularly if the incumbent’s moderate-reformist coalition holds. That’s a big if, of course, especially in Iran.