Iran elections: Khamenei versus Ahmadinejad

AhmadinejadMahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Reuters)

While India's attention is focused on the general elections in Pakistan this month, the unfolding contest for the next president of Iran amidst deep divisions with the country's political elite should be of interest to Delhi.

In the last election four years ago, the reformists objected to the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by alleging that the polls were rigged. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, declared Ahmadinejad as the legitimate winner and ordered a massive crackdown on the opposition.

It is now the turn of Ahmadinejad, who can't contest for a third successive term, to be at odds with Khamenei. For more than two years, Ahmadinejad has sought to assert himself against Khamenei and the clerics.

In Iran, it is not the elected President who is the top gun of the nation's political establishment. Under the clerical system in Iran, it is Khamenei who has the ultimate authority on all levers of power. But Ahmadinejad President is not leaving without one big fight.

Ahmadinejad is supporting the candidature of Afsandyar Rahim Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the President's son. Mashaei has been a close adviser to Ahmadinejad but is reviled by religious conservatives who accuse him of deviating from Iran's Islamist ideology and 'bewitching' the President.

The big question is whether Iran's leadership will allow Mashaei to run for President if he declares his candidacy. In Iran, the establishment carefully vets the candidates before it lets them run.

This week, Iran's Guardian Council, which has the authority to

interpret the Islamic Republic's Constitution, will decide who will run for the Presidential polls after the potential candidates announce themselves. The polling is in June.

The betting is that Mashaei will be disqualified from the contest. Others argue that even if he is allowed, Mashaei has little chance of winning. But Ahmadinejad has been traveling around the country in the last few weeks mobilising support for Mashaei.

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