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Iran's Ahmadinejad to contest ally's 'unjust' vote ban

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to students at the Islamic University College in Accra on April 17, 2013
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to students and governing authorities of the Islamic University College in Accra on April 17, 2013. Ahmadinejad hit out Wednesday at a decision to disqualify a close ally from a vote to elect his successor, whil

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday he will ask supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reverse what he branded the unjust disqualification of a close aide from next month's presidential election.

The conservative-dominated Guardians Council on Tuesday eliminated both the aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, and ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from a list of eight candidates for the June 14 election.

It gave no explanation, and those ruled out have no right to appeal the decision by the vetting body whose members are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei.

But Ahmadinejad said he would still take up the matter with the supreme leader, who has the final say in the Islamic republic's political affairs.

"I will pursue this case through the supreme leader until the last moment and I hope this problem will be solved," he said in remarks published on the presidency's website.

Mashaie had been "a victim of injustice," added Ahmadinejad, who himself cannot stand for re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

Khamenei has the power to ask the council to review Mashaie's case, as he once did in 2005. That intervention resulted in the reinstatement of two reformist candidates.

However, Rafsanjani's campaign manager Eshagh Jahangiri told ISNA news agency the moderate former president "will not protest regarding his disqualification".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right) and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie wave during a press conference in Tehran, on May 11, 2013
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie wave during a press conference in Tehran on May 11, 2013.

"Mr Hashemi has always been among the pillars of the regime and will remain so, God willing," he added.

Rafsanjani's eldest daughter Fatemeh, cited by the opposition site Kaleme.com, said the disqualification of her father on the basis of his advanced age was "a pretext".

"They called my father and told him to withdraw from the race (the morning before announcing the approved candidates) but my father said he will not withdraw since 'I cannot betray people who urged me to come forward'," she said without elaborating.

"There are many people of advanced aged who hold high-ranking posts in the country and also are ill. Therefore it is utterly evident that age is a pretext."

Rafsanjani, who turns 79 in August, currently chairs the Expediency Council, Iran's highest political arbitration body.

Guardians Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai, without naming Rafsanjani, said frailty and old age had been factors in the eliminations.

"Barring Mashaie was a natural move since Ayatollah Khamenei refused Ahmadinejad appointing him as first vice president" in 2009, said Mohammad Saleh Sedghian, analyst at the Arab Centre of Iranian Studies in Tehran.

"Rafsanjani's refusal will lead to division among the clerics, among the people and political circles as he is one of the pillars of the Islamic revolution," he told AFP.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) arrives to register his candidacy in Tehran on May 11, 2013
Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) arrives to register his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on May 11, 2013.

Only eight candidates won approval to stand -- five conservatives close to Khamenei, two moderates and a reformist.

The council's decision was welcomed by some 150 deputies in the 290-seat Iranian parliament.

The disqualifications appeared to put Saeed Jalili, a figure close to Khamenei known for his tough negotiation stance in Iran's atomic talks with world powers, in the front seat for the election.

"In the conservative camp, the tide is turning in favour of Jalili," said Amir Mohebian, a conservative political analyst.

Other analysts agreed.

"The compass among the conservatives points towards Jalili... because he is deemed to be adhering more to the revolutionary values and he is better linked to the regime's powerful decision-makers."

Jalili's conservative rivals include Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, ex-foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, ex-commander of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai and former parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel.

Two figures seen as moderate conservatives are also on the list of approved candidates: former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, and Mohammad Gharazi, a former minister who served under Rafsanjani and under opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is currently under house arrest.

The reformists will have only one candidate in the election in Mohammad Reza Aref, who served as first vice president under president Mohammad Khatami.

The Iranian press plastered the pictures of the approved candidates on their front pages, but offered no comment on them.

The reformist Bahar daily's main headline: "Hashemi is not on the list," while the governmental Iran newspaper did not cover the list on its front page.

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