A relatively reformist former president, the top nuclear negotiator, and four prominent politicians, joined hundreds of potential candidates who have applied to run in the June 14 presidential election.
On Saturday, Iran’s powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani entered the race. Two weeks ago, in a rare moderate remark from a high-profile Iranian leader, Rafsanjani declared that Iran was “not at war with Israel.” He added: “We are not eager to go to war with Israel, but if the Arabs wage war on it we will support them.”
Still, Rafsanjani has in the past called for the use of Iranian nuclear weapons to wipe out Israel, and said that this would be viable because Israel would be destroyed by an Islamic bomb while Iran would only be damaged by any Israeli second-strike capability. “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession,” he said in 2001, “the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate, because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s close confidante Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei also signed up in the last minutes before Saturday’s registration deadline.
State TV showed both men at the Interior Ministry registering their names. A smiling Ahmadinejad accompanied Mashaei and raised the man’s hand in a gesture of support.
The registration of the two hopefuls puts forward a tough challenge to conservative candidates loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and will likely intensify competition between rival groups at the June 14 vote.
Rafsanjani is now the prime hopeful for reformists, who were widely crushed and left leaderless after massive street protests following Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 election victory.
Nuclear negotiating team head Saeed Jalili also submitted his candidacy for the position at the Iranian Interior Ministry Saturday, according to an AFP report.
The four senior politicians, who submitted their candidacies on Friday, are: liberal-leaning former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref; former Revolutionary Guard chief Mohsen Rezaei; lawmaker Ali Reza Zakani and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, an ally of Tehran’s mayor and an adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei.
The race will pick a successor to Ahmadinejad, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, and offer a critical test for reformists battered after years of crackdowns.
So far, 369 names are registered. Saturday is the final day for applications.
The hard-line Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, will vet the applicants, and disqualify many, before allowing them to run. The list of candidates will be announced later this month.