Ex-President, Ahmadinejad Aide Shake Up Iranian Election

Iran’s run up to the June presidential election took a new turn as two potential front-runners joined the race to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad minutes before registrations closed.

Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the Islamic republic, who has expressed sympathy with the opposition movement that grew out of the disputed 2009 vote, signed up shortly before the deadline late yesterday.

So did Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close aide to Ahmadinejad, who the president has promoted in his trips in recent weeks. Ahmadinejad, who has fallen out of favor with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and squabbled with other top officials, is constitutionally unable to run this time.

The decisions by Rafsanjani and Mashaei to seek office will change a campaign that analysts had previously said may mostly consist of like-minded politicians loyal to Khamenei. With Iran engaged in a standoff with the U.S. over its nuclear program and the economy feeling the pain of economic sanctions, the Islamic republic’s clerical rulers also aim to avoid a repeat of the unrest that followed the presidential election four years ago.

Some 686 candidates have signed up for the June 14 race during the five-day registration, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said on the ministry’s website. Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili are some of the senior officials who have registered for the race.

The Guardian Council, half of whose members are clerics nominated by Khamenei, will screen the candidates based on their qualifications and loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, usually reducing the field to less than 10. Iran’s Interior Ministry has said it will announce the list of approved candidates on May 22.

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