Ah­madine­jad de­fies ay­a­tol­lah in bid to re­turn to pres­i­den­tial seat

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY AMIR VAH­DAT AND JON GAM­BRELL

TEHRAN | Stun­ning his coun­try­men and dis­re­gard­ing the words of Iran’s most pow­er­ful ay­a­tol­lah, po­lar­iz­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad reg­is­tered Wed­nes­day to run in the coun­try’s May pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and up­ended a con­test largely ex­pected to be won by mod­er­ate in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani.

Though Mr. Ah­madine­jad still might not be ap­proved for the bal­lot by Iran’s cler­i­cally over­seen gov­ern­ment, merely the men­tion of the Holo­caust-ques­tion­ing pop­ulist might energize dis­con­tent hard-lin­ers who want a Per­sian and na­tion­al­ist an­swer to the more con­fronta­tional poli­cies of the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s can­di­dacy also comes as Pres­i­dent Trump has threat­ened a reap­praisal of Iran’s nu­clear deal with world pow­ers and as fis­sures still linger in­side Iran af­ter his con­tested 2009 re-elec­tion, which brought mas­sive un­rest and street vi­o­lence.

Stunned elec­tion of­fi­cials were seen pro­cess­ing Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s pa­per­work on Wed­nes­day. Asked about Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s de­ci­sion, one Tehran­based an­a­lyst of­fered a blunt as­sess­ment.

“It was an or­ga­nized mutiny against Iran’s rul­ing sys­tem,” said Soroush Farha­dian, who backs re­formists.

Ever the show­man, a smil­ing Mr. Ah­madine­jad made “V for Vic­tory” hand sig­nals and walked his for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Hamid Baghaei through the process of reg­is­ter­ing first. Just when it ap­peared Mr. Ah­madine­jad would be leav­ing, he turned around and re­turned to the In­te­rior Min­istry’s reg­is­tra­tion desk, pulling out his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments with a flour­ish in front of a melee of shout­ing jour­nal­ists.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s de­ci­sion shocked Iran as Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei of­fered a thinly veiled warn­ing in Septem­ber that his can­di­dacy would cre­ate a “po­lar­ized sit­u­a­tion” that would be “harm­ful for the county.” Many Ira­ni­ans blame Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s rhetoric and poli­cies as con­tribut­ing to Iran’s iso­la­tion and econ­omy de­te­ri­o­ra­tion dur­ing his two terms in pres­i­dent.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad on Wed­nes­day de­scribed com­ments by the supreme leader as “just ad­vice” in a news con­fer­ence shortly af­ter sub­mit­ting his reg­is­tra­tion, ad­vice that “does not pre­vent me from run­ning.”

There was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from the supreme leader’s of­fice. While Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei has the fi­nal say on all state mat­ters, Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s re­la­tion­ship with him had strained by the end of his time in power.

“It’s in clear de­fi­ance of what the supreme leader had stated very openly and very pub­licly,” said El­lie Ger­an­mayeh, a pol­icy fel­low at the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

Cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions sur­rounded Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s 2005-2013 pres­i­dency and two of his for­mer vice pres­i­dents were jailed, in­clud­ing Mr. Baghaei. Iran’s econ­omy also suf­fered un­der heavy in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause of Western sus­pi­cions that Tehran was se­cretly pur­su­ing nu­clear weapons. Iran in­sists its nu­clear pro­gram is for peace­ful pur­poses.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, Mr. Ah­madine­jad also re­mains known for re­peat­edly ques­tion­ing the scale of the Holo­caust and pre­dict­ing Is­rael’s demise.

The one­time mayor Tehran does, how­ever, main­tain pop­u­lar­ity among the poor for his pop­ulist poli­cies and sub­si­dies he of­fered while in of­fice.

More than 280 peo­ple have filed as pos­si­ble can­di­dates since reg­is­tra­tion be­gan Tues­day, in­clud­ing 13 women.

Un­der Iran’s elec­toral sys­tem, all ap­pli­cants must be vet­ted by the Guardian Coun­cil, a cler­i­cal body that will an­nounce a fi­nal list of can­di­dates by April 27. The coun­cil nor­mally does not ap­prove dis­si­dents or women for the for­mal can­di­date list.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s can­di­dacy may be a stunt to en­sure at least one of his acolytes makes the cut. Mr. Ah­madine­jad him­self de­scribed his de­ci­sion to run as in­tended to help Mr. Baghaei. Es­fan­diar Rahim Mashaei, an­other of the for­mer pres­i­dent’s close al­lies, also reg­is­tered Wed­nes­day.

The May 19 elec­tion is seen by many in Iran as a referendum on the 2015 nu­clear agree­ment and other ef­forts to im­prove the coun­try’s sanc­tions-hob­bled econ­omy. Un­der the nu­clear deal, Iran agreed to curb its ura­nium en­rich­ment in ex­change for the lift­ing of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

Pres­i­dent Rouhani is widely ex­pected to seek re-elec­tion af­ter his ad­min­is­tra­tion ne­go­ti­ated the atomic ac­cord, though he has not filed or for­mally de­clared his can­di­dacy. Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric close to the supreme leader, also has de­clared his can­di­dacy and is seen by some as the choice of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard, the pow­er­ful para­mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion that also has vast eco­nomic hold­ings.


For­mer Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad (right) un­ex­pect­edly filed to run for pres­i­dent in Iran. This move con­tra­dicts a rec­om­men­da­tion from the supreme leader for Mr. Ah­madine­jad to stay out of the race. The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be held in May.

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