Rafsanjani’s Benz at Center of Controversy

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Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council which vets potential candidates, made controversial comments alluding to Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s wealth and car on Friday. The news quickly caught on, spreading on social media, and even prompted a response from a Rafsanjani ally about Jannati’s own car.

At Tehran Friday prayers, Jannati, who’s also one of the handful of temporary Tehran Friday prayer leaders appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took part of sermon to explain the qualifications a president must have. He said: “A president must live a simple life, and this simple life must start with him, meaning his house, his personal belongings, and the car he rides must be simple. A person who speaks of living a simple life but rides in a Benz doesn’t understand the people’s pain when they’re hungry and doesn’t sympathize with the lower classes.”

Jannati’s comments were a direct attack on Rafsanjani, who not only is considered one of the wealthier government officials in Iran, but who also was driven to the Minister of Interior building to register for the presidency in a Mercedes-Benz last week, a point not lost on hard-line media critical of Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani’s wealth has been used against him the last two times he ran for public office in parliamentary elections in 2000 and presidential elections in 2005, both times he was not elected into office.

Yesterday, conservative Tehran parliament member Ali Motahhari, who has a penchant for making controversial statements himself, said: “I don’t think that Rafsanjani’s [Mercedes-] Benz costs anymore than Jannati’s Peugeot.” (Above: Bahar newspaper has juxtaposed the famous picture of Jannati walking toward his Peugeot with Rafsanjani leaving the Minister of Interior building after registering for the presidency elections in a Mercedes-Benz.)

To a group of reporters, Motahhari continued: “If some officials ride in a [Mercedes-]Benz this is up to their security services to decide, and in reality these [Mercedes-]Benzes that some of these gentleman ride in are 20 to 30 years old and the statements that have been made seem naïve.” Motahhari has been rumored to become Rafsanjani’s campaign spokesman given that Rafsanjani is on the list of the Guardian Council’s approved candidates next Tuesday.

“Essentially they tell an individual that he has to travel in a bullet proof car and they’ve said this to Rafsanjani because of his position. What does Mr. Jannati travel in himself?” He continued “in my opinion these statements are somewhat absurd. Neither did it have the importance to be addressed at Friday prayers nor was it logical,” Motahhari said.

Motahhari, who’s considered part of the traditional conservatives opposed to hard-liners including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Jannati’s comments were “deceiving the public” and warned that “in previous elections we deceived the people and we must not repeat this again.” This is a reference to Ahmadinejad’s strategy to paint himself as a simple individual against Rafsanjani’s wealth when the two squared off in the runoff of the 2005 elections.

On whether or not Jannati, speaking as Friday prayer leader, was also expressing his opinion as head of the Guardian Council on the likelihood that he would disqualify Rafsanjani to run, Motahhari said: “Certainly Rafsajani will be approved to run, if he is disqualified the principles of the revolution and the system are put under question.”