TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian media say more than 600 candidates have registered to run in next month’s presidential election.
At least 638 have registered in the first three days of the process through Thursday, more than twice the number that had registered during the same period in 2013. Registration closes on Saturday.
More people tend to run when a moderate is in office because the political sphere is more open. More than 1,000 people registered in 2005, under reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
The Guardian Council, a clerical body that oversees elections, is expected to bar most candidates and will announce an approved list by April 27.
The most high-profile candidate to register thus far is former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, is expected to seek re-election.
Though Ahmadinejad still might not be approved for the ballot by Iran’s clerically overseen government, merely the mention of the Holocaust-questioning populist might energize discontent hard-liners who want a Persian answer to US President Donald Trump.
Ahmadinejad’s candidacy also comes as Trump has threatened a reappraisal of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and as fissures still linger inside Iran after his contested 2009 re-election, which brought massive unrest.
Associated Press journalists watched as stunned election officials processed Ahmadinejad’s paperwork on Wednesday. Asked about Ahmadinejad’s decision, one Tehran-based analyst offered a blunt assessment.
“It was an organized mutiny against Iran’s ruling system,” said Soroush Farhadian, who backs reformists.
Ahmadinejad’s decision shocked Iran as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered a thinly veiled warning in September that his candidacy would be a “polarized situation” that would be “harmful for the county.”
That referenced Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009, which sparked massive protests and a sweeping crackdown in which thousands of people were detained and dozens were killed.
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’s candidacy may be a stunt to ensure at least one of his acolytes makes the cut. Ahmadinejad himself described his decision to run as intended to help Baghaei. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, another of the former president’s close allies, also registered Wednesday.
“People are reading it as saying he knows he’s going to be disqualified, but he’s doing it so that the Guardian Council doesn’t disqualify both Baghaei and him as that would look like they’re eliminating all of that camp,” Geranmayeh said.
The May 19 election is seen by many in Iran as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement and other efforts to improve the country’s sanctions-hobbled economy. Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Since the deal, Iran has signed multi-billion-dollar contracts with airplane manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus. The benefits have yet to trickle down to the average Iranian, though, fueling some discontent.
Incumbent president Rouhani is widely expected to seek re-election after his administration negotiated the atomic accord, though he has not filed or formally declared his candidacy. Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric close to the supreme leader, also has declared his candidacy and is seen by some as the choice of the Revolutionary Guard, a powerful paramilitary organization that also has vast economic holdings.
Every Iranian president since Khamenei himself took the presidency in 1981 has won re-election, making Rouhani the presumed front-runner long before the vote. Rouhani also is presumed to maintain support among liberals and those wanting tensions eased with the West, though polling is difficult.