Despite the Iranian Supreme Leader’s aim to conduct a quiet election without controversy, it is turning out to be a race headed in the other direction.
Until yesterday, the registered candidates were not controversial and were primarily from the conservative camp.
If both are allowed to run, then the election will have two focal points, where once again Ahmadinejad (through Mashaei) is face to face with Hashemi Rafsanjani.Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Yet minutes before registration ended on Saturday, two wildcards entered the race.
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Ahmadinejad’s top aid Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei entered the Ministry of Interior at the same time from two different entrances to officially register for the presidential race.
According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), the registration for the presidential election was like a carnival. “Average people used the opportunity for fun and entertainment,” ISNA reported. Of the 686 people who registered for the election, “over 600 of them are not qualified.”
Leaving the public aspect of entertainment aside, the conservatives and perhaps even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself were more serious, holding their breath for days before the registration ended.
Reformists (like Hashemi Rafsanjani) and Independents (like Mashaei) were the last groups that Khamenei and his people anticipated registering for the election.
Instead, they had hoped that only average candidates, such as Mayor of Tehran Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf and Khamenei’s top advisor Ali Akbar Velyati, would register.
This would have freed the conservative Council of Guardians (which vets candidates) from having to decide over the eligibility of controversial candidates—a far more preferable option in light of the scandal surrounding the last presidential election in 2009, when the two leading reformist candidates were placed under house arrest.
Twist of fate
What a twist of fate the Council of Guardians and the Supreme Leader are in this week when reviewing the candidates’ qualifications!
Two-time president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78 years old and currently heading the Expediency Council, represents the reformists.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, 53 years old and Top Advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enjoys popularity among the public but less so among the conservatives in Qom.
Despite attempts by powerful conservative clergies, top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and unseen mafia to prevent the registration of these two individuals, both entered the names in the race.
These groups attacked both equally, labeling Hashemi Rafsanjani as “the head of intrigue” and Mashaei as a “deviant.” Both were told they would be disqualified if they ran.
But their entry into the race creates a balance and adds excitement for the public.
At this point, disqualifying Mashaei and Hashemi Rafsanjani becomes very difficult for the Council of the Guardians, if not impossible.
Both candidates have been discredited and yet both currently serve in the government. If the Council of Guardians only qualifies Hashemi Rafsanjani, it will face difficulty justifying Mashaei’s disqualification.
Ahmadinejad vs. Rafsanjani?
If both are allowed to run, then the election will have two focal points, where once again Ahmadinejad (through Mashaei) is face to face with Hashemi Rafsanjani.
It is hard to believe that the Supreme Leader, who used his constitutional power to prevent Mashaei from becoming vice president, would suddenly change his mind about him.
Hashemi Rafsanjani’s case is different. While he and the Supreme Leader have different views on many topics, these guys friendship go back half a century and still Khamenei can trust him.
If Mashaei’s candidacy is approved, which is very likely, his admission does not mean that the system wants him to become the next president. Rather, the conservative leaders want to give Mashaei Hashemei Rafsanjani a chance to run (and lose) against someone like Dr. Saeed Jalili, head of National Security Council in order to prove to Ahmadinejad and Hashemei Rafsanjani that their time is over.
Given the difficult circumstances in which Iranians are living, front-runner candidates will likely focus on sanctions and the economy. What people are asking of the next president is to improve the economy and ease the sanctions, which is suffocating them.
Ayatollah Khamenei will be making a large sacrifice by allowing both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mashaei to run since there is no guarantee about the winner. The Supreme Leader is gambling and I believe that if these two candidates can run, we should expect an exciting election without fraud since the system doesn’t favor either candidate. Even if Hashemi Rafsanjani turns to be the favored candidate of the conservative elite, President Ahmadinejad is legally in charge of the election and will do his best to ensure no one use his or her power and influence against his friend.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard