Iran’s ruling elite mocks presidential candidates
Surprise entries could reshape vote
TEHRAN — A day after two potentially game-changing politicians signed up at the last minute as candidates for Iran's presidential elections in June, the country's governing establishment reacted angrily, predicting that they would not be allowed to participate or that they would soundly lose.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a protege of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, signed up at the end of a five-day period for registration on Saturday.
The moves shocked their opponents, who had bet on their preferred candidates being the only ones running in the June 14 election.
The governing establishment, a loose alliance of conservative Shi'ite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders who hold sway over the country's judiciary, security forces, Parliament, and state news media, came out in full force on Sunday, attacking the candidates.
''Hashemi knows he is unpopular, a loser, and is too old,'' Mehdi Taeb, a hard-line cleric affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying of Rafsanjani, 80, by the semiofficial Fars news agency. He added that Mashaei ''only registered because he wants to sabotage the vote, or make sure there is a low turnout and possibly cause riots on the streets.''
Iran's Guardian Council, a conservative vetting body that will decide by May 23 who will be allowed to run, said it planned to report Ahmadinejad to the judiciary for what it said was his ''illegal'' support of a candidate, Mashaei.
On Saturday, Ahmadinejad, who is nearing the end of his second and last term as president, joined Mashaei when he was registering at Iran's Interior Ministry, holding up the candidate's arm for the cameras.
Iran's election law forbids presidents to openly support a candidate, but Ahmadinejad said he had taken a leave from office for the day and had also given ''14,000'' salutations to the Prophet Mohammed before joining Mashaei.
''This act will be reported to the judiciary,'' Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, told the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency. ''This is a clear violation of the election code.''
The state-run daily Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Rafsanjani and Mashaei of secretly planning to start a smear campaign against the Guardian Council if they are not allowed to run.
''Do they not see the council is there for the people?'' the newspaper's main editorial asked of the new candidates on Sunday. ''They are locked in their cocoon of illusions and will receive a slap in the face.''
The two late entries took away focus from the establishment's candidates: Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Khamenei; Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator; and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, the capital.
Velayati, a pediatrician who studied at Johns Hopkins University, was the only candidate to present a plan — his was 26 pages long — to solve problems in the economy and restore relations with the outside world. ''The country needs stability,'' he told reporters.
Rafsanjani, president from 1989 to 1997, does have some influential support. Former president Mohammad Khatami, who was in power from 1997 to 2005, issued a statement of support for Rafsanjani, who said others encouraged him to run.