Iranian election authorities have excluded former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running in June's election. The protege of the current president has also been omitted, eliminating potential election surprises.
The Guardian Council did not include Rafsanjani (pictured) and Esfandair Rahim Mashaei on its list of approved candidates Tuesday, state news agencies and television reported. Their omission by the conservative-dominated body charged with vetting the country's presidential hopefuls sets the stage for an establishment-friendly winner of Iran's June 14 election.
Rafsanjani served as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997 and is considered a relative moderate. Mashaei, who has been handpicked as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor, has voiced opinions that have angered Iran's clerical elite.
Both men joined the race at the last minute, shaking up an election that was lacking a frontrunner. But by removing the two from the list of candidates, the Council has eliminated potential surprises and left a field of contenders considered to be reliably loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Interior Ministry approved eight candidates, including former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
Just one candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, is considered a reformist with possible moderate appeal. He served as vice president to reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
The election looks set to bring the presidency closer to Iran's ruling clerics after years of turmoil under Ahmadinejad, who has tried to challenge the theocracy's vast power.
Uncertainty over candidates
Rafsanjani, regarded as a "pillar of the revolution," was a longtime political heavyweight in Iran until his presidential election defeat to Ahmadinejad eight years ago. His open questioning of Ahmadinejad's controversial election to a second term in 2009 and criticism of the government's crackdown on ensuing protests angered the ruling establishment.
Mashaei, meanwhile, has been viewed suspiciously by the clerical elite because they believe he may try to continue Ahmadinejad's push for power realignment.
Guardians Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai told state television, without mentioning the 78-year-old Rafsanjani by name, that frailty and old age had been factors in drawing up the final candidates list.
Mashaei said he planned to appeal the Council's decision.
"I deem my disqualification an injustice. I will seek its resolution through" Khameni, he told the Fars news agency. "God willing, it will be resolved."
The Guardian Council, a panel of 12 clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader and Islamic jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament, has the power to reject any candidate deemed unfit.
Some 686 people, including 30 women, had registered to contest the election. The incumbent Ahmadinejad is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
dr/crh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)