TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that a decision by election overseers to disqualify his top aide from next month's presidential race is an act of "oppression" and that he will take the case to the country's supreme leader.
His comments were posted on his website, president.ir, the day after the Guardian Council removed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei from the final candidate list.
Despite Ahmadinejad's pledge to appeal, it is unlikely that the Guardian Council made its decision without the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It allowed only eight candidates, most hard-liners associated with the clerical establishment.
Among those approved for the June ballot are Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, prominent lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf — all top Khamenei loyalists. Former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaei and a little known former minister, Mohammad Gharazi, have also been approved.
Only two of are considered pro-reform figures: Former top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani and former first vice president Mohammad Reza Aref, but neither have yet gained any strong following among moderates and liberals after years of crackdowns by authorities.
Most hope for an opposition revival had rested with former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was not approved by the Guardian Council after hardliner complaints. Rafsanjani had openly criticism the heavy-handed tactics used to crush protests in 2009 following the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad.
The ruling dealt a serious blow to Ahmadinejad's hopes of having a loyalist succeed him. He can't run in the June 14 ballot due to term limits under Iran's constitution.
"I believe the right of an oppressed man won't be trampled at this level in a country where there is 'velayat-e-faqih,'" Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying, referring to Iran's Islamic system of government in which a top cleric serves as supreme leader and the final authority on all matters of state.
Ahmadinejad claims deference to Khamenei, although his perceived 2011 challenge to the supreme leader's authority caused him to fall out with conservatives who formerly backed him and marked the start of the decline in his political fortunes.
The president called Mashaei a "pious, rightful and competent man." He said he would pursue the appeal "through the exalted leader until the last moment and hope the problem will be resolved," he said.
Ahmadinejad has strongly supported his protege. But Mashaei is disliked by hard-liners because of the man's alleged role in the bitter feud between Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics. They have denounced him as part of a "deviant current" that seeks to undermine the country's Islamic system — which made ballot approval highly unlikely.
But the decision to keep Rafsanjani off the ballot surprised many.
Rafsanjani is a founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power. He was the closest confident of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 revolution. Even Khamenei largely owes his position to Rafsanjani's support.
His rejection deals a demoralizing blow to pro-reform groups and boosts the chances of a Khamenei loyalist winning the election.
But removing the main challengers to the hard-liners dims hopes for high turnout, which Iranian leaders are believed to want to show that the Islamic Republic is still politically strong.
Eshaq Jahangiri, Rafsanjani's campaign manager, said the former president won't object to his disqualification.
"He won't protest," Jahangiri was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying Wednesday. "He signed up to carry out his responsibilities and on the basis of the requirements."
But several prominent figures have appealed to Khamenei to reverse the council's decision. Zahra Mostafavi, Khomeini's respected daughter, said the decision only causes greater rifts between Khamenei and Rafsanjani, once two close allies.
"I'm giving this advice that this decision (Rafsanjani's rejection) means nothing but causing a rift between two allies of the Imam (Khomeini) and ignoring the sympathy and interest the people have got for the election," Mostafavi said in a letter addressed to Khamenei. A copy of the letter was posted on jamaran.ir website Wednesday.
The Iranian media didn't provide any reason for Rafsanjani's disqualification, but some opponents have claimed that at the age of 78, he is too old to run the country.
Others have cited his support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claimed to be the rightful winner of the disputed 2009 election, as another major reason for disqualifying Rafsanjani.