Iran’s former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered on Wednesday to run again for the Islamic Republic’s presidency, raising the possibility that the populist leader who rapidly advanced Tehran’s nuclear program to challenge the West could return to the country’s top civilian post.
Ahmadinejad’s attempt to run again in 2017 disregarded the words of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had warned the firebrand, Holocaust-questioning politician his standing for office would be a “polarised situation” that would be “harmful for the country”.
This time, however, Khamenei seemingly isn’t directly challenging the candidacy of the 64-year-old former Tehran mayor, who joins a wide-open election to replace the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
A council Khamenei oversees ultimately will determine if Ahmadinejad and other hopefuls can run in the June 18 poll.
As Iran negotiates with world powers over its tattered nuclear deal amid tensions with the United States, the entry of Ahmadinejad could enliven an election that Iranians so far appear unenthusiastic about during the coronavirus pandemic and crushing sanctions.
Thronged by shouting supporters, Ahmadinejad marched to a registration centre at the Interior Ministry, where he filled out registration forms. He held up his hands in a “V for Victory” salute before addressing reporters.
“My presence today for registration was based on demand by millions for my participation in the election,” he said, adding that the move also came after “considering the situation of the country, and the necessity for a revolution in the management of the country”.
Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013.
Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarising figure, even among fellow hardliners.
His disputed re-election in 2009 sparked massive “Green Movement” protests and a sweeping crackdown in which thousands of people were detained and dozens were killed.
Abroad, he became a caricature of Western perceptions of the Islamic Republic’s worst attributes, such as questioning the Holocaust, insisting Iran had no gay or lesbian citizens and hinting Iran could build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.
But Ahmadinejad remains popular among the poor for his populist efforts and home-building programs.
Since leaving office, he’s raised his profile via a social media presence and written widely publicised letters to world leaders.
He’s also criticised government corruption, though his own administration faced graft allegations and two of his former vice presidents were jailed.
Unlike 2017, however, Khamenei hasn’t warned Ahmadinejad off the campaign and is even signalling he will remain silent about his opinions.
“In past elections, those who wanted to become a candidate came and asked me ‘Do you agree?’” Khamenei said in a video-conference speech on Tuesday night to Iranian university students. “This year I said I won’t even say that.”
Iran opened registration for the presidential election on Tuesday, kicking off the race as uncertainty looms over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and tensions remain high with the West. It will run through Saturday.—AP