Iranian authorities yesterday opened the registration process for candidates in next month’s presidential election that will pick a successor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offer a critical test for reformists battered after years of crackdowns.
The leaders of the reform movement four years ago are now under house arrests, and liberal groups have faced relentless pressures since major unrest to protest Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009. It appears unlikely that prominent pro-reform figures, such as former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, will seek a spot on the June 14 ballot.
That leaves opposition and liberal groups the option of boycotting the election or falling behind one of the candidates cleared by the ruling clerics, who will vet all hopefuls who submit their names during the five-day registration period.
Only a handful of candidates are expected to be approved when the final list is unveiled later this month by the Guardian Council, the group that supervises the election.
The slate is almost certainly to be heavily stacked with candidates considered loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been angered by challenges to his authority by Ahmadinejad and his allies.
Among the presumed front-runners are senior Khamenei adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, who formally registered his candidacy early yesterday.
The ruling clerics seek an end to the internal political battles opened by Ahmadinejad and more coordination with the presidency in strategies on nuclear talks and efforts to confront international sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.
All key policies are made by the theocracy and its inner circle, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard. However, the president is the international face of the country and is responsible for increasingly important sectors, such as the nation’s stumbling economy.
Most of the main candidates have vowed to shun Ahmadinejad’s bombastic style and seek to reduce tensions with the West and its allies. However, all strongly support Iran’s ability to maintain a full-scale nuclear program, including uranium enrichment. The US and others fear Iran could eventually develop nuclear weapons, but Iran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.
Another major subplot in the election is the fate of Ahmadinejad’s top political protege, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is expected to seek a spot on the ballot. Ahmadinejad has endorsed Mashaei as his personally groomed heir, but Mashaei’s reputation has faced severe blows in the backlash over Ahmadinejad’s failed attempts to encroach on Khamenei’s powers.