The US and other Western governments will be watching for any evidence that he might take a softer line on the contentious issue of Iran’s nuclear program — the cause of the harsh sanctions that are exacerbating the country’s structural economic problems.
Until May 11, Rafsanjani had said he would only stand with the permission of Khamenei and he reportedly went ahead after receiving a call from the supreme leader’s office. That, and his position as head of the expediency council, which mediates between Iran’s parliament and the Guardian Council, means that the latter body — charged with vetting the candidates — is unlikely to disqualify him.
In a country where rumor and labyrinthine conspiracy theories are the stuff of political discourse, some believe he may have been set up as a counterweight to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahamadinejad’s controversial former chief of staff, who is loathed and feared by Khamenei and the conservatives.
“This is a classic divide and rule operation,” said Ali Ansari of St Andrews University. “Khamenei put two people out there who cancel each other out.”
No one has forgotten how, in the wake of the 2009 repression, Rafsanjani spoke out critically for the opposition, urging the establishment, security forces, parliament and protesters all to act within the law.
Rafsanjani has been isolated for the past four years and his children have fallen foul of the regime. In September last year, his son, Mehdi Hashemi, was detained after returning from self-imposed exile in the UK. He is now out of prison, but being tried. Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh, an activist and former MP, was sentenced to six months in prison after being found guilty of “spreading propaganda against the regime.”
Immediately after he registered, petitions began circulating signed by conservatives who attacked him as linked to “sedition.” Kayhan and other hardline media outlets are calling for his disqualification on grounds of age.
In a recent meeting with journalists and students, Rafsanjani was quoted as saying: “The system belongs to the people. It shouldn’t be that some group does whatever it wants and doesn’t allow ordinary people to object. It is they who own the state. God gave supremacy over the state only to the 12 holy [Shiite] imams and after them anyone who becomes responsible should be elected by the people. No dictatorship would survive.”