By Rohollah Faghihi, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised everyone April 12 by registering to run in the May 19 presidential election, a move that could be interpreted as directly defying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had publicly “advised” him last autumn not to run in the race.
When it comes to politics, Ahmadinejad is a clever operator. The hard-line politician has confused and misled everyone in recent months by indicating that he didn’t intend to run in the election, particularly as he encouraged his former vice president, Hamid Baghaei, to announce his candidacy for the presidency.
Since the first days of Khamenei’s “advice,” which initially was not made public, Ahmadinejad had signaled that he was not eager to take the hint. Rather, he continued his electoral trips to various provinces. Upon seeing Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the supreme leader, conservatives started disclosing the former president’s meeting with Khamenei.
The supreme leader, without naming Ahmadinejad, said he had advised the former president not to run in the election due to the possible polarization of society, as Ahmadinejad’s candidacy could lead to a repeat of the unrest in the aftermath of his disputed re-election in 2009.
Following this disclosure, Ahmadinejad released a statement announcing his loyalty and commitment to the supreme leader. However, a few months later, in a surprising move, Ahmadinejad’s former vice president declared his candidacy, and Ahmadinejad officially threw his weight behind him, a move seen as as disobeying and opposing the supreme leader.
On the heels of Baghaei’s announcement, various video clips were released by Baghaei, Ahmadinejad and the former president’s controversial friend and aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, some of whose pronouncements have been interpreted as “deviant” by some religious conservatives. In one of the clips, Baghaei tells Ahmadinejad and Mashaei that “one of us must be sacrificed.”