Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hit out at a decision by election authorities to disqualify his close aide from next month's election. Ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also barred from running.
Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday he planned to raise the election ban with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Ahmadinejad's close political ally and former chief of staff, was banned from running in Iran's June 14 presidential election on Tuesday alongside the moderate former president.
"I introduced Mr. Mashaie and I know him," Iran's state news agency INSA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "He is a righteous person and beneficial for the country, and I believe he is capable."
On his website, meanwhile, the president was quoted as saying that Mashaie had been a "victim of injustice."
Political heavyweights sidelined
The conservative-dominated Guardian Council's refusal to include Mashaie and Rafsanjani on its list of approved candidates sets the stage for an election dominated by hardliners considered loyal to Khamenei.
Mashaie, handpicked as Ahmadinejad's successor, has been viewed with suspicion by the conservative establishment. There is concern that the president, who has fallen out with the conservatives since his controversial re-election in 2009 and cannot seek a third consecutive term because of constitutional limits, will attempt to cling on to power through his ally.
Mashaie has also voiced opinions that have angered Iran's clerical elite who have previously described his as heading a "deviant current" that seeks to sideline clerical authority.
Rafsanjani, meanwhile, has openly questioned Ahmadinejad's controversial re-election and criticized the government's crackdown on ensuing protests. Regarded as a "pillar of the revolution," he served as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997 until his presidential election defeat to Ahmadinejad.
On Tuesday Guardian 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.
Hardliners set to dominate vote
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.
It 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.
ccp/mz (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)