So Much For Moderates: Iran’s Extremist Former President To Run Again

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Iran’s radical former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has registered to run for office once again, signaling a potential return to hardline dominance in Iranian politics.

Ahmadinejad, who became infamous for regularly pronouncing death upon Israel and U.S., registered to run in the country’s May 19 presidential election on Wednesday. Iran’s conservatives were expected to make a play for the presidency in an attempt to oust the so-called “moderate” incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, but Ahmadinejad’s candidacy comes as surprise to many in Iranian political circles.

Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, a prominent Iranian cleric, is considered the preferred candidate. Ahmadinejad’s candidacy could fracture hardline support for Raisi, thus jeopardizing Raisi’s chances.

“The move is a shock to conservative unity in Iran,” Benham Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “Those hardliners who were beginning to see a chance in unseating the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani by offering their support to Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi (who is rumored to be a contender for the post of Supreme Leader should [Iran’s supreme leader] pass away) are likely to see this move as a threat to their interests.”

The ultra-conservative Ahmadinejad held the presidency from 2005 to 2013, during which time he regularly engaged in anti-Western rhetoric and policies. He also oversaw an expansion of Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shared a conservative bent, but later had a falling out over allegations of corruption against Ahmadinejad, as well as some internal political disagreements.

Ahmadinejad still maintained “something of a cult following” among Iranian conservatives, according to Taleblu.

Before the former president can run again, he has to be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council. The traditionally conservative council often disqualifies most candidates it sees as threats, particularly the so-called reformers like Rouhani.

Ahmadinejad’s candidacy and continued support within Iran signals that the country may not be taking the moderate turn former President Barack Obama had hoped for after the passage of the Iranian nuclear agreement. In reality, moderates were actually purged from Iranian politics following the agreement.

Taleblu speculated that Ahmadinejad may be attempting to gather support for his preferred candidate, Hamid Baghaie, a close ally and former advisor. Ahmadinejad will likely face “considerable domestic criticism” from many political factions, he added.

“However, if the eight years (2005-2013) of the Ahmadinejad administration have proven anything, it is that the former president covets conflict and the spotlight almost as much as he does populism, Islamism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism,” said Taleblu.

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