Top figures barred from Iran presidential poll
Tehran: Iran`s election overseers removed potential wildcard candidates from the presidential race today, blocking a top aide of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a former president who revived hopes of reformers.
Their exclusion from the June 14 presidential ballot gives establishment-friendly candidates a clear path to succeed Ahmadinejad, who has lost favor with the ruling clerics after years of power struggles. It also pushes moderate and opposition voices further to the margins as Iran`s leadership faces critical challenges such as international sanctions and talks with world powers over Tehran`s nuclear programme.
The official ballot list, announced on state TV, followed a nearly six-hour delay in which the names were kept under wraps. That raised speculation that authorities allowed some time for appeals by the blackballed candidates and their backers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say in all matters.
But the official slate left off two prominent but divisive figures: former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad protege Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The decision also appeared to remove many potential surprise elements in the race, including whether Rafsanjani could revitalise the reform movement or if Ahmadinejad could play a godfather role in the election with his hand-picked political heir.
Instead, those cleared by the candidate-vetting Guardian Council included eight high-profile figures considered firm and predictable loyalists to the ruling Islamic establishment such as former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Iran`s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
Any of the choices would create a possibly seamless front between the ruling clerics and presidency after years of political turmoil under Ahmadinejad, who tried to challenge the theocracy`s vast powers to make all major decisions and set key policies.
Iran`s presidency, meanwhile, is expected to convey the ruling clerics` views on the world stage and not set its own diplomatic agenda.
Rafsanjani or Mashaei did not immediately comment on the decision.
While the election is not expected to bring major shifts in Iran`s position on its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is peaceful despite Western fears it could lead to atomic weapons, it could open opportunities to renew stalled talks with a six-nation group that includes the US.
Today, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said Iran`s nuclear stance will "not change either before or after the election."
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