Iran’s former President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been making a political “comeback” (as Foreign Desk News puts it) and appears to be a strong contender against incumbent President Hassan Rouhani when elections are held eight months from now.
The other big name floated for the election is Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force. However, Soleimani has insisted he prefers to “remain in the role of soldier until the end of my life,” and denounced rumors to the contrary as propaganda from Iran’s enemies.
There has been comeback buzz around Ahmadinejad for some time, driven by what Shahram Akbarzadeh at The National describes as public dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s “moderate” platform, specifically the nuclear deal and his efforts to improve Iran’s international relations.
“Mr Ahmadinejad remains a popular figure in the rural parts of the country and among the urban poor, as he made a point of diverting ad hoc funds and allowances to them while in office,” Akbarzadeh writes, noting that while the economy was choking on 30 percent inflation with Ahmadinejad in office, Rouhani’s promises to improve the Iranian standard of living have been seen as disappointments.
Ahmadinejad “signaled his desire to return to politics in April and attacked current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as incompetent,” according to Modern Diplomacy. Iran’s “hardliners” are in a sour mood after a poor showing in February’s parliamentary elections, and are looking for someone with Ahmadinejad’s base of support and name recognition to recapture the presidency.
Modern Diplomacy notes that Ahmadinejad has been hitting the comeback trail so hard that critics think he may be violating the law, by launching his campaign too early, delivering “controversial” speeches, and failing to obtain the permits needed for his events.
“Despite insisting that he would retire from politics at the conclusion of his second term, Ahmadinejad has remained politically active and recently made headlines when he wrote a letter to President Obama demanding the return of Iranian assets seized by the U.S. to compensate victims’ families of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon,” Foreign Desk recalls.
News.Az brings up a significant obstacle to Ahmadinejad’s comeback: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is said to have banned Ahmadinejad from running in the 2017 election.
This came from Mehdi Fazaeli, former managing director of the Fars news agency, who said Khamenei “wants to prevent the repetition of the past ‘costly and detrimental experiences’ and a rollback.”
Al-Monitor adds condemnation from another prominent cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolholda, who said Ahmadinejad is “an individual who went astray, died, and is finished… He stood against the Guardianship of the Jurist and collapsed.”
Other, more moderate figures from Ahmadinejad’s Principlist movement have questioned his competence, qualifications, and temperament, speculating that his entry into the race would solidify support behind Rouhani and win his re-election.
However, al-Monitor quoted observers who believe the Principlists will conclude Ahmadinejad is the only candidate with a realistic chance to beat Rouhani. Lately, he’s been rallying crowds of supporters by predicting Rouhani won’t even make it to the elections, due to “the pressures of public opinion and inefficiency” forcing him out of office before May.