TEHRAN — In a much-anticipated decision likely to spark controversy, Iran’s supervisory electoral body on Tuesday disqualified from next month’s presidential race two high-profile candidates who have been assailed as disloyal to the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The powerful Guardian Council, composed of senior clerics and jurists, barred the two most controversial candidates — former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a confidant of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both were considered wild-card candidates who signed up to run in the final minutes before the deadline for applications.
Ultimately, the Guardian Council approved for the June 14 ballot a list of eight candidates, heavily weighted toward hard-liners close to the supreme leader. Almost 700 prospective candidates had signed up, but only a small number had a realistic chance of making the cut.
By disqualifying the two well-known figures, the government risks deflating turnout for the vote. The supreme leader has called for robust turnout for the electoral “epic” as a response to Iran’s many “enemies,” chief among them the United States.
Earlier on Tuesday, rumors had swept the Iranian capital about the council’s decision. Many conflicting versions of its deliberations were bandied about before the official word came down late Tuesday on state-run media.
The vetting period had already been extended for five days, creating a sense of drama about the council’s decision.
Critics have charged that the pair of now-disqualified office-seekers, though bitter rivals, were not sufficiently loyal to the supreme leader, who has the final say on issues of state. Both have denounced the allegations of “sedition” against them as part of an organized smear campaign.
The disqualification of Rafsanjani was especially surprising to some because he is a long-time pillar of the Iranian revolution and colleague of the supreme leader. Rafsanjani, who is 78, served as president from 1989 to 1997. Reformists had rallied around Rafsanjani’s possible candidacy, viewing him as a pragmatist capable of loosening up the system and attracting foreign investment to help the nation’s sanctions-battered economy.
Many Iranians view the nation’s plummeting economy as the major issue to be addressed. Iranians have had to deal with rising prices and unemployment as Western-led sanctions have restricted exports and strangled the financial sector.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer McDonnell from Beirut
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