The Iranian election is often framed as a rigged election, since all the candidates must be vetted and approved by a committee whose appointees are chosen by the Supreme Leader Khamenei. Additionally, two of the approved candidates have also received direct approval to run from Khamenei himself.
So it is interesting to find that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Iranian president, has registered to run as a presidential candidate in this May’s election. He has done so without the approval of Khamenei, who advised him not to run.
“I repeat that I am committed to my moral promise [of not running] and my presence and registration is only to support Mr. Baghaei,” said Ahmadinejad in a statement on Wednesday. He may still not be approved to be on the ballot.
“There is extensive pressure on me from dear people of different walks of life as their small servant to come to the election,” said Ahmadinejad on Wednesday.
His registration comes as the Trump administration has threatened a reappraisal of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and as fissures still linger inside Iran after Ahmadinejad’s contested 2009 reelection. He is seen by international sources as a potential way to energize hardliners in Iran looking for an answer to President Trump.
In the past, Ahmadinejad had stated that he would not run in this election, but has indicated he will support his former deputy, Hamid Baghaei.
“You advised me it’s not expedient to run and I announced my obedience, following my explanations of my plans,” said Ahmadinejad in a letter to Khamenei in September 2016. On a broadcast speech of Khamenei in Iranian state television, he indicated that such a candidacy would be damaging to the country.
But this registration could be seen as a turn from that position, although Ahmadinejad maintains that his registration is only to support Baghaei. Yet, from an outsider’s perspective, this could be seen as a break from the decision of Khamenei and could have unknown consequences in the current election cycle.
All of the current candidates have a history of human rights violations. Under Rouhani, executions continue to rise and arrests for a variety of violations continue. Most of these are aimed at limiting any signs of opposition to the regime, thus they target free speech and political activists.
Internationally, this move is seen as mutiny against Khamenei.
“It is in clear defiance of what the supreme leader had stated very openly and very publicly,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “What Ahmadinejad has done is quite crushing…but he also had a habit of doing this while he was president in his second term.”
She also noted that it could be part of a political plan to make sure that Baghaei is not disqualified by the Guardian Council, thus looking as if they are eliminating all the members of that faction from the election.
Another potential candidate is Ebrahim Raisi, who appears to be the choice of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), although he comes with the baggage of being on the death commission of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
With the continued international interest in the 1988 massacre and the continued struggle of the Iranian economy despite sanctions being lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement, it seems that this election cycle will produce a president who faces more issues, but this election is not likely to reflect the will of the people. Instead, it is likely to reflect the will of the Supreme Leader, who will be looking to maintain dominance and control, no matter who is elected.