Rouhani Gets Boost as Ahmadinejad Is Barred From Iran Election

(Bloomberg) -- Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, best known for his bellicose rhetoric against Israel, was disqualified from running in next month’s presidential election, giving a boost to President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election chances.

Rouhani was approved by the Guardian Council, a 12-man body in charge of vetting laws and candidates, to run for re-election. Among those joining him on the ballot will be cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Iranian state TV said Thursday.

“It plays relatively well for Rouhani,” said Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London, in a phone interview. “Qalibaf and Raisi are likely to split the conservative vote, whereas on the other hand Rouhani is uniting the moderates, he is the candidate that is bringing them together.”

The first round of the presidential elections are set for May 19. If no one surpasses 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates.

Street Protests

Ahmadinejad was president for eight years, from 2005 to 2013, and he helped ramp up the country’s nuclear program, which resulted in crippling European Union, United Nations and U.S. sanctions on the country. Millions of Iranians took to the streets in 2009 to protest Ahmadinejad’s victory in a vote marred by accusations of fraud. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds were initially arrested.

Khamenei had asked Ahmadinejad, 60, not to put his name forward for this year’s election to avoid polarizing the country. But the former president shocked the political establishment by going against the supreme leader’s request and registering to become a candidate last week.

Rouhani, 68, oversaw a 2015 accord with six nations, including China, Russia and the U.S., that removed nuclear-related sanctions and helped bring foreign investors to the country.

The president’s top challenger may be Raisi, 56, who was appointed last year to manage the Astan Quds Razavi, a wealthy Islamic charity that also controls the country’s holiest shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

Others who made the cut, according to a statement by state TV, include moderate Senior Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri, former conservative Culture Minister Mostafa Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a former minister of industry.

More than 1,600 people had registered to run in the May 19 presidential vote. The Guardian Council vets prospective candidates on the basis of their deemed suitability for the position, as well as their allegiance to the principles of the Islamic Republic.