London- Iran’s hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dropped a bombshell in Tehran on Wednesday as he defied Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s advice and signed up for the May presidential elections.
Khamenei had previously recommended that Ahmadinejad stands out this election to avoid widening a national rift and spurring strife among the people.
Ahmadinejad had insisted he would not run after Khamenei said last year that his candidacy would have a “polarizing” effect on the nation, and instead backed his ex-deputy Hamid Baghaei.
But the former president surprised everyone when he registered along with Baghaei on Wednesday. Ahmadinejad told reporters at the interior ministry, where registration was taking place, that he remained committed to his “moral promise” to Khamenei of not running for the May 19 elections.
But he said Khamenei’s “advice was not a ban”.
“I repeat that I am committed to my moral promise and my presence and registration is only to support Mr. Baghaei,” he added without explanation.
Ahmadinejad also defended the “integrity” of Baghaei, who was detained for seven months under suspicions of involvement in corruption cases.
“Preserving justice, national funds and responsibilities entrusted to Baghaei by the people remains to be one of his top priorities,” Ahmadinejad said in the candidate’s defense.
Three weeks earlier when visiting Ahwaz, Ahmadinejad’s comments sparked controversy especially after he vaguely criticized an unidentified authoritative figure.
Political analysts were divided over whether the hardline former president’s remarks targeted Khamenei or current ‘moderate’ President Hassan Rouhani who succeeded Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure.
The formal registration period for presidential hopefuls began on Tuesday and will continue until Saturday evening, after which candidates are vetted by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, with a final list to be announced on April 27.
On the other hand, senior officials reacted negatively to Ahmadinejad’s registration, especially after his presidency being remembered as mostly contentious.
“Ahmadinejad must act according to Khamenei’s teachings,” head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi said.
“It is necessary to heed to Khamenei’s recommendations,” Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said without mentioning Ahmadinejad.
“Disregarding the Supreme Leader’s recommendation damages the system and frustrates the aspirations of the people,” he added, according the Iran-run website ‘Itimad-Online.’
“With today’s move — registering for the presidential election, my belief in you was broken,” ex-lawmaker and Ahmadinejad loyalist Mehdi Koochakzadeh wrote on social media.
More than 126 people have registered to run for the presidency, Iran state media says.