Iran’s Ahmadinejad says will challenge ally’s ban from election

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday he would take up the ban of his close aide from the June 14 presidential election with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian media reported.

Iran’s electoral watchdog on Tuesday disqualified Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Ahmadinejad’s former chief of staff, and moderate ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running in the vote, eliminating two powerful and potentially disruptive candidates and leaving the field dominated by hardliners loyal to Khamenei.

“I introduced Mr. Mashaie and I know him,” Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing ISNA news agency. “He is a righteous person and beneficial for the country, and I believe he is capable.”

“In my opinion there will be no problem with the Leader and I will take up this issue until the last moment with him,” Ahmadinejad said. “I am hopeful the problem will be solved.”

Mashaie is viewed with suspicion by figures from Iran’s conservative establishment, who believe he heads a “deviant current” that seeks to sideline clerical authority.

They also believe that Ahmadinejad, who has fallen out with Iran’s conservatives since his disputed 2009 re-election and cannot seek a third consecutive term because of constitutional limits, seeks to maintain power through his ally.

Following the disqualification of hundreds of would-be presidential candidates in Iran, including two top figures from the ballot, the United States slammed the Islamic Republic’s electoral body on Tuesday for “vague” decision-making.

“It appears that Iran’s unelected Guardian Council, which is unaccountable to the Iranian people, has disqualified hundreds of potential candidates based on vague criteria,” State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in an emailed statement to AFP news agency.

“The Council narrowed the list of almost 700 potential candidates down to eight officials based solely on who the regime believes will represent its interests, rather than those of the Iranian people,” he told AFP in an email.

“The lack of transparency makes it unlikely that the slate of candidates represents the will of the Iranian people, who should be given every opportunity to choose a president who best embodies their views.”

Eight candidates won approval to stand -- five conservatives close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as two moderate conservatives and a reformist.

No explanation was given for the disqualifications.

According to the unofficial news reports, among those approved for the June ballot are Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, prominent lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf - all top Khamenei loyalists. Former chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei and a little known former minister have also reportedly been approved.

Of eight, only two of them are pro-reform figures: Former top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani and former first vice president Mohammad Reza Aref.

Reformers now have the option of rallying behind Aref or Rowhani or boycott the polls altogether.

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