Ex-president barred from running in Iran election

Candidates for next month's presidential election are (clockwise, from top left) Mr Hassan Rouhani, Mr Ebrahim Raisi, Mr Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mr Eshaq Jahangiri, Mr Mostafa Mirsalim, and Mr Mostafa Hashemitaba.
Candidates for next month's presidential election are (clockwise, from top left) Mr Hassan Rouhani, Mr Ebrahim Raisi, Mr Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mr Eshaq Jahangiri, Mr Mostafa Mirsalim, and Mr Mostafa Hashemitaba.

Ahmadinejad's disqualification may boost Hassan Rouhani's chances of staying in office

TEHERAN • Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, best known for his bellicose rhetoric against Israel, was disqualified from running in next month's presidential election, which has given a boost to President Hassan Rouhani's re-election chances.

Mr Rouhani was approved by the Guardian Council, a 12-man body in charge of vetting laws and candidates, to run for re-election.

Among those joining him on the ballot will be cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Teheran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, said Iranian state TV on Thursday.

"It plays relatively well for Rouhani," said Ms Dina Esfandiary, a fellow with the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King's College London, in a telephone interview.

"Ghalibaf and Raisi are likely to split the conservative vote, whereas Rouhani is uniting the moderates - he is the candidate who is bringing them together."

There are relatively few criteria in Iran for registering as a candidate for president and, this year, 1,636 people applied. The list of applicants is winnowed by the Guardian Council, a 12-member group dominated by hardliners.

  • The six candidates

  • PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, 68

    Every president since the early 1980s has won a second term, and Mr Rouhani has done much to maintain his alliance of moderates and reformists - stabilising the economy and signing a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

    But many Iranians feel the promised windfall of the nuclear deal has not materialised, while conservatives argue that Mr Rouhani was duped by the West.

    EBRAHIM RAISI, 56

    The hardline judge and cleric is a close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr Raisi has little political experience, but has spent decades in powerful judicial and backroom positions, including as prosecutor-general.

    Many wonder why he would risk a run for the presidency if, as speculated, he is being considered as a possible future supreme leader.

    MOHAMMAD BAGHER GHALIBAF, 55

    The Teheran mayor registered at the last minute for his third run at the presidency.

    A war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief, he is a staunch conservative.

    ESHAQ JAHANGIRI, 60

    Mr Rouhani's first vice-president and confidant was a surprise entry. It is assumed he is running to back up Mr Rouhani in the pre- election debates.

    The reformist may also be trying to raise his profile ahead of his own bid in 2021.

    MOSTAFA MIRSALIM, 71

    The former engineer and national police chief is a member of the Islamic Coalition Party, a conservative faction that has been somewhat sidelined in recent years.

    He was culture minister in the early 1990s, and dramatically increased censorship.

    MOSTAFA HASHEMITABA, 71

    He was a member of the relatively pro-reform Construction Party and supported reformist candidates in the contested 2009 election. But he also voiced his support for the closure of newspapers and clampdown on dissidents in the early 2000s.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

No official reason was given for the disqualifications of Mr Ahmadinejad and hundreds of others.

The first round of the presidential elections is set for May 19. If no one garners more than 50 per cent of the vote, a run-off will be held between the top two candidates.

Mr Ahmadinejad was president for eight years, from 2005 to 2013, and he helped ramp up the country's nuclear programme, which resulted in crippling European Union, United Nations and United States sanctions on Iran.

Ayatollah Khamenei had asked Mr Ahmadinejad, 60, not to put his name forward for this year's election, so as to avoid polarising the country. But the former president shocked the political establishment by going against the supreme leader's request and registering to become a candidate on April 12.

Mr Rouhani, 68, oversaw a 2015 accord with six nations, including China, Russia and the US, that removed nuclear-related sanctions and helped bring foreign investors to the country.

The President's top challenger could be Mr Raisi, 56, who was appointed last year to manage Astan Quds Razavi, a wealthy Islamic charity that also controls the country's holiest shrine in the north-eastern city of Mashhad.

There are relatively few criteria in Iran for registering as a candidate for president and, this year, 1,636 people applied. The list of applicants is winnowed by the Guardian Council, which is dominated by hardliners.

More than 130 women registered, but none has ever been allowed to stand. "In Iran, it's not only an election, it's also a selection," said Mr Clement Therme, who is Iran research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-president barred from running in Iran election'. Print Edition | Subscribe