Ahmadinejad’s Return Is Not the Real Story of Iran’s Presidential Election

Ahmadinejad’s Return Is Not the Real Story of Iran’s Presidential Election
Iranian cleric Ebrahim Raisi waves to the media as he registers for the May 19 presidential vote, Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2017 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Officials at Iran’s Ministry of the Interior were expecting a relatively normal day last Wednesday, when they started registering candidates for next month’s presidential election. But former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a surprise in store for them.

Ahmadinejad, who left office in 2013, had been very publicly warned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei not to run for another term. So when he accompanied his former vice president, Hamid Baghaei, to the ministry, no one thought much of it. But after Baghaei completed his registration for the election, Ahmadinejad put on quite a show for the media. He suddenly pulled out his own papers and registered as a candidate as well. Witnesses said the ministry officials looked nothing short of stunned.

Ahmadinejad’s decision to throw his hat into the ring has kicked up a swirl of theories and prognostications. In the byzantine political process in Iran, where a theocratic regime rules with absolute power, the limited space for democratic activity remains enormously important. And although the clerics try to control much of the script for that process, the controversial former president is trying to write a new page of his own. The problem is nobody knows what exactly he has in mind.

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