The disqualification of the two most controversial candidates, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, by Iran’s Guardian Council earlier this week undercut much of the hype that has surrounded Iran’s forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for June 14.
However, some indications have emerged from inside the halls of power in Iran that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, might intervene by overruling the Guardian Council, which is charged with interpreting Iran’s constitution and vetting presidential and parliamentary candidates.
Despite this, some analysts say that the warm welcome such an intervention would receive from critics of the ruling, both domestic and foreign, reduces the chances that it will happen.
Rafsanjani’s exclusion made headlines around the world, and the US State Department expressed criticism of election procedure in Iran, accusing the Guardians Council on Wednesday of handpicking candidates “based solely on whom the regime believes will represent its interests, rather than those of the Iranian people.”
Within Iran, the conservative MP Ali Motahari, a member of a prominent political dynasty and a backer of Hashemi Rafsanjani, wrote to Ayatollah Khamenei this week asking him to overrule the decision of the Guardian Council.
In his letter, Motahari ridiculed the Guardian Council’s justification for disqualifying Hashemi Rafsanjani by saying: “If Imam Khomeini too, was to enter the presidential election, the Guardian Council would disqualify him.”
According to Fatemeh Hashemi, the daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, “Some officials came to see my father, trying to convince him to withdraw from the race on Tuesday morning.”
She told the Jaras news website that her father said: “I have registered because of many people’s invitation and requests, thus I can’t betray their trust.”
The disqualification of Hashemi Rafsanjani by the Guardian Council is widely believed to have been based on two criteria: his age—at 79, he would have been the oldest candidate—and second, his criticism of the government’s response to the massive protests that followed the disputed elections of 2009, which was labeled by Iran’s hardliners as fetneh (mutiny).
In his letter, Motahari rejected both justifications and warned the supreme leader of the consequences of excluding a man who had played an important role in the Islamic revolution of 1979 that led to the creation of Iran’s existing political system.
He also predicted that the move will substantially decrease public enthusiasm for participating in the election. Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly called up Iranians to vote en masse and ensure a high turnout.
Zahra Mostafavi, the daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, Khamenei’s predecessor and the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei urging him to use the ‘jurisprudence authority’ given to him by the constitution. In her letter, she also reminded the supreme leader of the importance the late Ayatollah Khomeini placed on the alliance between Khamanei and Rafsanjani.
In another development, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential hardline cleric, refused to meet with one of the approved candidates, Saeed Jalili, during a trip to holy city of Qom on Tuesday, according to the Alef news website.
Mesbah-Yazdi publicly backed Baqer Lankarani for president, but his preferred choice was rejected by the Guardian Council before the final list was published. It is unclear at this stage if this will cause some of his followers to begin questioning his judgment, following Mesbah-Yazdi’s unreserved support of Ahmadinejad during 2005 and 2009, and his subsequent break with the controversial president.
This development is also likely to be scrutinized in light of the claims that a transfer of power is underway in Iran, away from the existing cleric-dominated establishment and towards a new generation of former military officers and figures associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, such as Saeed Jalili and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Qalibaf, who was also approved by the Guardian Council.