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Anticipation Builds In Iran As News Awaited On Ahmadinejad Election Bid

Millions of supporters, as well as critics, are impatiently waiting for the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, to announce whether former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will stand in the June 18 presidential election. Ahmadinejad, who is casting himself as a popular tribune fighting a corrupt system, has said he will call for a boycott of the vote if not included in the list of approved candidates expected May 27.

"All people have the right to vote [but] you don't have the right [to make us] vote for you," Ahmadinejad told his provincial campaign staff in Tehran Monday while directing the remark at the Guardian Council, and perhaps Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has on occasion over-ruled the council.

Ahmadinejad also claimed that the council had disqualified him twice, in 2013 and 2017:  "I didn't say anything out of respect for the people, the revolution and the system but I, Ahmadinejad, will not participate [and vote] in the elections and will not endorse the election if you do that again.”

In fact, Ahmadinejad was ineligible to run in 2013 for a third consecutive term, but his claim is instructive. His close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei was not that year qualified by the Guardian Council, thwarting Ahmadinejad’s attempt to create a political bloc that would outlast his presidency.

From his first election win in 2005 Ahmadinejad’s populism alarmed some senior clerics in Qom. Tensions rose with Khamen too in Ahmadinejad’s second term after 2009, when he was instructed by the leader not to appoint Mashaei as vice-president, to which Ahmadinejad responded by making him chief of staff.

After he left office, Ahmadinejad was assigned a seat on the Expediency Council, which arbitrates disputes between state bodies, but the former president was clearly disgruntled and his public criticisms of the government led Khamenei in late 2017 to accuse him of “doing the enemy’s job” by making statements seized on by hostile British and American media outlets. In March 2018 Ahmadinejad fired off two letters to Khamenei bemoaning a lack of political freedom in Iran and demanding “fundamental changes.”

After registering to stand as a candidate, Ahmadinejad has now at least three times threatened to call an election boycott in speeches and video messages circulated on social media. He has also told supporters not to cast blank ballots should he not stand, implying such votes could somehow be counted for other candidates. A telephone poll taken earlier this month by Stasis for Iran International TV gave Ahmadinejad 29 percent support among those saying they intended to vote in the June 18 election.

Tacitly referring to Ahmadinejad in a tweet on Wednesday, Abbasail Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council spokesman, said many rumors were being spread by people with false hopes who were "threatening the council."

Kadkhodaei said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday that although a high turnout was always desirable in elections, a low turnout had no implications "from the legal point of view." This, apparently, referred to Ahmadinejad's boycott threat and his suggestion that a low turnout would undermine the legitimacy of the poll.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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