Ahmadinejad spoke a day after the Guardian Council, which vets candidates, barred the out-going president’s confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, from the June 14 poll along with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the nation’s most illustrious political figures.
Tuesday's decisions enraged the pair’s many supporters and threatened to deflate turnout.
Mashaei was “unjustly treated,” the president told reporters, according to the conservative Fars News Agency. “I have presented ... Mashaei as a righteous and religious person who could be useful for the country.”
The president said he hoped that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would reverse the decision of the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of senior clerics and jurists.
Rafsanjani's supporters expressed similar hopes for their candidate. But Rafsanjani’s camp has said he would not file a formal appeal.
The 78-year-old ex-president was one of the pillars of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But detractors have accused him of “sedition” because of his criticism of the crackdown against protesters after the last presidential poll in 2009. Ahmadinejad was elected to a second and final term amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging and mass demonstrations.
Rafsanjani’s prospective candidacy had galvanized reformists eager to end Iran’s diplomatic isolation and help improve its plummeting economy, battered by Western-led sanctions. His disqualification left many disillusioned and saying they may not vote.
Numerous observers say it is unlikely that the supreme leader will invalidate the council’s verdict and allow either of the two sidelined candidates on the ballot.
Khamenei was undoubtedly kept apprised of the council’s deliberations, observers say, and may have signed off on the decisions, or even encouraged them. In Iran’s theocratic system, Khamenei has the final word on matters of state.
The Guardian Council approved eight presidential candidates for next month’s elections. Most of them are considered establishment-friendly and unlikely to antagonize the ruling coalition of hard-line clerics and like-minded allies in the Revolutionary Guard and other government institutions and factions.
Ahmadinejad has frequently clashed with the clerical-dominated establishment and has fallen out of favor in recent years. With his hand-picked successor barred from running, Ahmadinejad and his allies face increased political isolation once the populist firebrand steps down. Iran’s term limits law prevented Ahmadinejad from seeking office again.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Iran; staff writer McDonnell reported from Beirut.