TEHRAN: Campaigning began on Friday for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing, reports AFP.
Ahmadinejad’s disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise—he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would “polarise” the nation.
Ahmadinejad’s populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even his hardline backers during his tenure between 2005 and 2013.
“Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council,” said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system.”
The mood in Tehran has been subdued—many are disillusioned with Rouhani’s failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.
The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, without giving a reason—a decision criticised by Rouhani and other candidates.
Campaigning, which the Guardian Council announced could begin immediately, had not been supposed to start for another week, so little activity was expected on Friday.