Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has filed to run in the country’s May presidential election, contradicting a recommendation from the nation’s supreme leader that he stay out of the race.
Associated Press journalists watched as stunned election officials processed Ahmadinejad’s paperwork on Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad previously said he wasn’t going to run after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised him not to, saying he would instead support his former deputy Hamid Baghaei who also registered on Wednesday.
At a press conference Wednesday, Ahmadinejad called Khamenei’s comments “just advice,” and described his registering for the election as helping Baghaei, a close confidant.
Many hard-liners in Iran seek a tough-talking candidate to rally around who can stand up to US President Donald Trump. But Ahmadinejad’s candidacy could expose the fissures inside Iranian politics that linger since his contested 2009 re-election, which brought massive unrest.
Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal with world powers, is expected to run for re-election.
Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure, even among fellow hard-liners.
Ahmadinejad was reviled in Israel and the West for repeatedly questioning the scale of the Holocaust, calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and expanding Iran’s contested nuclear program.
Two of his former vice presidents have been jailed for corruption since he left office. Iran’s economy suffered under heavy international sanctions during his administration because of Western suspicions that Tehran was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009 sparked massive protests and a sweeping crackdown in which thousands of people were detained, dozens killed and others tortured.
The memory of the 2009 unrest likely sparked Khamenei’s comments in September. At that time, he recommended an unnamed candidate not seek office as it would bring about a “polarized situation” that would be “harmful for the county.”