The reform movement that took to the streets to protest alleged vote-rigging in Iran’s last presidential election has been crushed. The supreme leader has made it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated this time. But that doesn’t mean the maneuvering to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an election set for June 14 has been without intrigue. Ahmadinejad, who was reelected in the disputed 2009 balloting, is barred by law from seeking a third term and is publicly promoting a trusted aide to replace him. It is far from clear, however, whether the president’s preferred successor will even be allowed to run. For much of the outside world, the incumbent remains the defiant face of the Iranian theocracy. At home, however, the clerical establishment that backed him four years ago has tired of what hard-liners regard as his divisiveness and lack of deference to the religious leadership. The election comes at a difficult moment for the Islamic Republic, which is facing the prospect of increased international isolation.
On Saturday, world powers and Iran again failed to break a deadlock in talks over Tehran’s nuclear program. Economic sanctions are biting, pushing up prices and spurring widespread discontent. Officials have clamped down on any signs of street protests.
The Iranian leadership is also deeply concerned about the fate of its major Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears to be slowly losing his grip on power to a rebellion now in its third year.
… Enter Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the president’s chief advisor, top strategist and theoretician. He is also Ahmadinejad’s trusted in-law — the president’s son is married to Mashaei’s daughter. Mashaei is widely regarded as Ahmadinejad’s handpicked prospective successor, though the aide has yet to declare his candidacy.
Candidates must declare their intention to run by May 7. To get on the ballot, they must be approved by the Guardian Council, a hard-line panel close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many observers say the council is unlikely to approve Mashaei, who is loathed in clerical circles as a leader of a “deviant current” challenging religious authority.