Ahmadinejad Submits for Presidential Candidacy—Against the Supreme Leader’s Wishes

In Iran, a battle between the conservative and the extremely conservative may result in death

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes the sign for victory at the Interior Ministry’s election headquarters as candidates begin to sign up for the upcoming presidential elections in Tehran on April 12, 2017. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has submitted his name to run as a candidate in the Iranian presidential election scheduled to take place on May 19.

Submitting his name is a major power play. A year ago, the Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, forbade Ahmadinejad from running for the position. The Supreme Leader told him not to run in no uncertain terms multiple times—even making his commands public.

Ahmadinejad poses a significant challenge to the Supreme Leader. In effect, Ahmadinejad is staging a coup against the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, which is being followed carefully by the entire nation of Iran.

If Iran were a democracy, Ahmadinejad would have a fighting chance; some polls put him ahead of all the other potential candidates. But Iran is not a democracy, and the question is whether the vetting committee will permit him to run. The committee will need to decide if they should follow the Grand Ayatollah or the even more conservative candidate Ahmadinejad.

This kind of challenge of authority—supreme authority—has never happened in Iran. It’s a case of pitting the extremely conservative against the even more conservative. Until now, it was assumed that the president would always be tapped by the Grand Ayatollah. That’s how it went when Ahmadinejad was “elected” to his first term in office, and when Rouhani was tapped to win in the most recent election.

Iran does not take insurrection lightly. Popular candidates in Iran have been arrested. Candidates that challenged the election results have been put under house arrest. Children of candidates have been arrested and not permitted to travel inside or outside the country. The list of arrestees has even included former prime ministers of Iran.

Ahmadinejad knows how dangerous his actions are to himself, to his followers, and to his family. Yet, he persists. He is counting on his popularity to sway the Guardian Council, the vetting body that decides who may and who may not run for president.

As of now, during this week of registration, more than 600 candidates have registered their names for candidacy in the upcoming Iranian presidential election. Within a few days, the committee will release the list of candidates. The final list is then sent to be further vetted by the famous Guardian Council. They have until April 27th to release their list. In previous elections, there were twice as many proposed candidates as there are in this go around. In the end, less than 10 candidates will make the cut.

After the list is created, the campaign is only three weeks long. At the end of that 21 day period, there are a quiet few days in which campaigning is not allowed.

The final list traditionally fits the mold dictated by the Grand Ayatollah. But—and here’s why Ahmadinejad may have a chance after all—the Guardian Council selected the Supreme Leader. So, there is the possibility, however remote, that the Council will exercise independence and allow Ahmadinejad to run for office again.

Ahmadinejad is counting on the possibility that the the Guardian Council will take that leap and go against the Supreme Leader’s wishes. If they don’t, he might pay for his miscalculation with his life.

He and the Supreme Leader have history. There was a serious divide between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader during the final few years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. It became clear that the Supreme Leader was not in agreement with Ahamdinejad’s style of foreign policy, in which Ahmadinejad isolated Iran from much of the Western world. That ‘s why the Supreme Leader tapped the current, more liberal president, Rhouhani, to replace him.

Whatever the end result, don’t get too excited. This is not about a significant difference in liberal and conservative issues; it’s about opposing views about how to approach to the West and America. Under Ahmadinejad, there would never have been a lifting of sanctions against Iran nor would there ever have been the nuclear agreement with the P-5 Plus 1. That could have only happened under the present leadership of Rouhani—the candidate who has received the Supreme Leader’s endorsement.

Things are changing in Iran. In a short while, we will know by how much.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator, author the “The Micah Report,” online and host of the weekly TV show “Thinking Out Loud w Micah Halpern.” follow him on twitter: @MicahHalpern

Ahmadinejad Submits for Presidential Candidacy—Against the Supreme Leader’s Wishes