Iran's Guardian Council has stayed true to form, rejecting the vast majority of the 600 candidates who nominated to run in next month's presidential elections and approving just eight. The most contentious refusal was that of the former two-term president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who held the promise, however faint, of some social liberalisation and an improvement in ties with the West. In other words, a reformist candidate.
His absence robs the election of most of its interest, as the remaining candidates are largely a collection of conservatives. The only two who could be labeled centrists/reformists, Muhammad Reza Aref and Hassan Rohani, are neither charismatic nor connected enough to energise reformist voters to come out in large numbers. The winner is likely to come from one of the leading conservative candidates.
The refusal of Rafsanjani's candidature signals that the stability of the election process and reinforcement of the Supreme Leader Khamenei's authority are the two main objectives of the 2013 presidential election. The reason for Rafsanjani's refusal has not been publicly announced, nor is there a requirement to do so. Rafsanjani has obvious political enemies among his more conservative peers, who see his candidature as a threat. They had tried to use his age (he is 78) as reason to exclude him, but the real question remains what the Supreme Leader himself thought. Rafsanjani had previously stated that he would not run without the agreement of the Supreme Leader, but during his 11th hour nomination he stated that he had 'informed' the Supreme Leader, which is somewhat short of gaining his agreement.
The Supreme Leader has the authority to overturn the Council's decision and thus to let Rafsanjani run. There is a school of thought that Khamenei may do so to lend greater legitimacy to the election while at the same time reinforcing the real power in Iran. The daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, has even written to the Supreme leader asking him to allow Rafsanjani to run.
It's unlikely Khamenei will choose this path, however. After the social unrest that followed the 2009 election, and given ongoing sanctions, on-again off-again nuclear negotiations and Iran's increasing support for the Assad regime in Syria, an orderly election without a candidate around whom reformists could coalesce might be exactly what the Supreme Leader wants.
Photo by Flickr user Ali Ghazvini.