Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defies Supreme Leader to run for Iranian presidency

That sets up a potential clash for Khameini, who ultimately will decide the victor of the election and who could be forced to choose between two unappetizing options: The stability of current President Hassan Rouhani, who's relatively liberal voice has often frustrated the Supreme Leader, and alienating a large number of constituents who view Ahmadinejad's tough talk as a source of Iranian pride.

Iran's former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday got his name registered for the upcoming Iranian presidential election. Though Rouhani has yet to formally register, many viewed him as a shoe-in following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recommendation in September for Ahmadinejad to stand down and conservatives' inability to coalesce around a single candidate. The Ayatollah is the head of state and highest ranking political and religious authority in the country and appoints the heads of many powerful posts in the military, the civil government, and the judiciary.

Even up until Monday, it was still being reported that Ahmadinejad had no plans to personally run for election, having instead endorsed his former deputy, Hamid Baghaei, to run as an independent candidate in his place. The former president added, "Some people say that the [supreme leader's] advice was meant to completely forbid [me from running], but what the leader said was just advice".

"I repeat that I am committed to my moral promise [to not run] and my presence and registration is only to support Mr. Baghaei", asserted Ahmadinejad.

On the heels of Baghaei's announcement, various video clips were released by Baghaei, Ahmadinejad and the former president's controversial friend and aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, some of whose pronouncements have been interpreted as "deviant" by some religious conservatives.

There was no immediate reaction from the supreme leader's office.

Reuters goes on to claim that according to informed sources, Ahmadinejad might respond to his own disqualification by taking the odd turn of directing his supporters to back Rouhani's reelection.

Once the registration process ends, the would-be candidates will be vetted by the Guardian Council, the country's most influential clerical body. While the deal eased worldwide sanctions in return for curbs on the country's nuclear programme, the trickle-down effects are yet to be felt by many of Iran's 80 million strong population. Registration remains open until Saturday. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate whose signature issue has been improving the economy by seeking better relations with the West, is widely expected to run for a second term.

Iran's presidential election is scheduled for May 19, but campaigning starts April 28. The benefits have yet to trickle down to the average Iranian, however, fuelling some discontent. Many Iranians have grown impatient with the slow rate of improvement in their economic fortunes since the lifting of sanctions previous year.

Both of Ahmadinejad's terms were also marked by anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric, including questioning the Holocaust.

  • Rogelio Becker