Iran vote overseers may bar ex-leader from ballot

Panel cites lack of vigor; critics say regime fears him

TEHRAN — Iran's election overseers said Monday they will bar candidates who are physically weak from running in next month's presidential election, a reference to a former leader seen as a threat to hard-liners.

Ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's entry in the race scrambled the equations because of his popularity, reputation, and potential to draw voters away from conservatives.

Rafsanjani is 78. Opponents say he is too old to run the country, and the body that decides who can run in the June 14 election indicated it agrees. Critics say Rafsanjani's threat to Iran's hard-liners, not his age, is driving the decision.


Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman of the Guardian Council that vets candidates, said the council will not allow candidates who are limited in their physical abilities.

''If a person is able to work only few hours a day, it's natural that he can't be approved,'' Kadkhodaei was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying Monday. He did not name any of the candidates, but it was a clear reference to Rafsanjani.

The council is expected to release its list of approved candidates Tuesday.

The unexpected entry of Rafsanjani into the race has cut into chances of victory for a candidate loyal to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There is also widespread speculation in Iranian media that Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's close confidant, will be barred from running.

Ahmadinejad cannot run for another term as president according to term limits under Iran's constitution. Instead, he has been trying to ensure that a loyalist succeeds him.

Ahmadinejad has backed Mashaei, saying ''Mashaei means Ahmadinejad, and Ahmadinejad means Mashaei.''

Hard-liners accuse Mashaei of being the leader of a ''deviant current'' that seeks to undermine Islamic rule and compromise the Islamic system. Some critics have even claimed he conjured black magic spells to fog Ahmadinejad's mind.


More than 100 lawmakers have petitioned the council to bar both Rafsanjani and Mashaei from the vote.

Given Mashaei's role in a messy power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics, he is likely to be barred, but Rafsanjani is seen by some observers as too respected to be disqualified.

Rafsanjani is a founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power. He was the closest confident of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 revolution. Even Khamenei largely owes his position to Rafsanjani's support.

''If it happens [Rafsanjani is disqualified], the foundation of the ruling system would be brought into question,'' conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, who supports Rafsanjani, was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news Monday.