First, former President Rafsanjani made a surprise entrance into the race. Now, the Guardian Council has delayed its announcement of the approved candidates for the election, which will give those candidates just over three weeks to campaign. David Patrikarakos notes how the regime is already attempting to discredit Rafsanjani:
Rafsanjani would have support from both conservatives and reformists, and, critically, he could win. So the question remains: will he pass the vetting process?
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati heads the Guardian Council and is a close ally of Khamenei. He would probably like to reject Rafsanjani’s candidacy outright, but things are not that simple. … Rafsanjani is too powerful to be swatted aside like so many other candidates but, equally, the regime is determined to avoid a repeat of the popular unrest of 2009. … It is a sign of how isolated Iran’s ruling elite have become that Rafsanjani, a commercially minded pragmatist who never displayed any great love of reform beyond what was practically necessary, is now seen as a grave internal threat to the regime. Even were he elected there is no knowing how reformist he would be: his track record shouldn’t give any hope to the regime’s opponents, and how far he has changed remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Laura Rozen takes a look at Saeed Jalili, the country’s top nuclear negotiator, who may emerge as the hardline establishment’s choice now that Rafsanjani is running:
Jalili, 47, a trusted Khamenei aide who has served since 2007 as the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) — the Iranian equivalent of National Security Advisor–has managed to largely bypass the bitter feuds that have polarized Iran’s ruling factions, analysts and associates observe. As a candidate who may be able to unite key conservative factions, a Jalili presidency potentially offers the prospect of a more consolidated Iranian leadership, which might be able to muster internal Iranian consensus if the Leader decides to make a deal, some analysts suggest. …
“I think he is the anointed one,” Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran analyst at the Brookings Institution Saban Center, told Al-Monitor. The regime “may test run it, see how he [does], if anybody else appears to take off.” … Current and former Iranian associates describe Jalili as a pious and intelligent man, who has earned the trust of the Supreme Leader, but shown a disinclination to deeply engage with the modern world.
(Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) and Esfandyar Rahim Mashaie (L) flash the sign of victory during their press conference after Mashaie registered his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on May 11, 2013. Iran is expected to wrap up the five-day registration of candidates on May 13, leaving the fate of the hopefuls in the hands of the Guardians Council, an unelected body controlled by religious conservatives appointed by Khamenei. By Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)