Guardian Council Denies Candidate’s Qualification Under Review

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Abbass Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for the Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates, has denied that moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani’s qualification to run for the presidency is under review. While legally the council has the authority to disqualify an already approved candidate just days before the election, the move would be a shock to many.

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Prominent Imprisoned Reformist Calls For Boycott of Iran Elections

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Prominent Reformist political figure Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was arrested after the 2009 elections and is currently in Evin prison, has written a letter to the people of Iran, published in full by Norooz News. Tajzadeh, a member of the Reformist group Islamic Iran Participation Front and who served as a minister in for president Mohammad Khatami’s administration, has written numerous letters since his imprisonment.

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Mehr News Leaks Unconfirmed List of Candidates

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Mehr News has published an unconfirmed list of approved candidates leaked from the Interior Ministry. The Guardian Council presented their list of approved candidates today to the minister of interior, who will make the official announcement tomorrow. Although the list is still unofficial, it was re-published by other sites and shared widely on social media.

According to the Mehr report, a list of eight candidates have been approved. They are Gholamali Haddad Adel, top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Secretary-General of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, former vice president under Mohammad Khatami Mohammad Reza Aref, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Foreign-Policy Adviser to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati and former minister under Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Mohammad Gharazi.

The list excludes two notable candidates: Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

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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.” Continue reading

Presidential Candidate Ghalibaf Takes Credit for Infamous Student Crackdown

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An audio file of Tehran Mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has surfaced in which he highlights his personal role in the crackdown of protests in 1999, 2003 and 2009. Ghalibaf, who some have touted as a pragmatist and an able manager as mayor, reportedly spoke to a group of Basiji (members of a paramilitary group under the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Sepah) three weeks ago, during which he revealed a more hard-line side to his actions and beliefs.

Opposition website Kaleme has transcribed portions of the two-hour file, parts of which are available on YouTube.

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Ahmadinejad Attendance With Mashaei Called a “Violation”

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A spokesperson for the Guardian Council told reporters yesterday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presence at Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei’s registration for the presidential race at the Interior Ministry building was a “violation.” Saturday was the final day for candidates to register their names. In a dramatic fashion, both Mashaei and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani registered in the final minutes, accompanied by an entourage of supporters.

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Iran’s Presidential Candidates Begin Registration Process

From Left: Kavakebian, Vaez-Zadeh, Lankarani, Saeedikia, Rowhani

From Left: Kavakebian, Vaez-Zadeh, Lankarani, Saeedikia, Rowhani

Registration for candidates for Iran’s 11th presidential elections officially began at 8 this morning in Tehran at Iran’s Interior Ministry building. Candidates have until 6 pm Saturday, May 11 to register their names. After the registration process closes, the 12-member Guardian Council will issue its first list of those they deem qualified to run. After an appeal process, the final list of Iran’s presidential candidates permitted to run will be issued by the Guardian Council on May 23.

Nearly two dozen candidates have registered their names at this point. Some of the more prominent candidates spoke to reporters after registering.

Former nuclear negotiator and current head of the Center for Strategic Research Hassan Rowhani was perhaps the highest-profile registration today. He said that “saving the economy, reviving the morale of society and constructive engagement with the world” is what he would bring as president.

Rowhani has attempted to position himself as a “moderate” between the Reformists and Principlists. He said that “I am a moderate individual. I’ve always had close and warm relations with moderate Reformists and Principlists. …I’ve consulted and spoken with the leaders of both sides and I hope I can attract the votes of all the moderates in society and those who believe in reason and moderation.”

To questions about Rafsanjani’s potential candidacy, Rowhani said, “you have to ask him that,” but he did add that “it’s unlikely that he will register.” Ali Younessi, the minister of intelligence under President Mohammad Khatami, said that he met with Rafsanjani and doesn’t believe he will run. He added, “We’re certain that Rafsanjani will not run, but assuming he does, Rowhani will put out.” In January, MP Temour Ali Asgari, who is close to Rafsanjani and Rowhani, made similar statements to Etemad newspaper.

One of the first candidates to register was Sadegh Vaez-zadeh, a former deputy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a member of the Expediency Council. He said that he “had designed a comprehensive plan to solve inflation,” adding, “We’ve come to realize the fundamental needs of the people, especially the youth, and I believe the current state is not desirable and we can neither return to the past.”

Former health minister under President Ahmadinejad’s administration Kamran Bagheri Lankari also registered today. He said that “our goal is to bring about calm in the country, not tensions.” Lankari said that he wants to address “reforming the banking system” and “corruption in the administration.” On former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s potential candidacy, Lankari said, “I think the young country of Iran needs young ideas rather than returning to the past.” Lankari is also close to hard-line cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a former supporter of the president.

Former minister under previous administrations Mohammad Saeedikia also registered today. Saeedikia is not a favored candidate and questions revolved around his response to being disqualified, to which he responded, “I’m dependent on the law.” Mostafa Kavakebian was another political figure to register today. He said, “My slogan is ‘long live Reformism,’ my administration will named ‘morality,’ and my color is green.”

Many candidates picked various colors to represent their campaigns. Green was the color chosen by Reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi in the 2009 elections, which came to be later known as the Green Movement.

Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Attacks Rafsanjani

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Hayder Moslehi, Iran’s minister of intelligence, attacked Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani today while giving a speech in the city of Qum. Rafsanjani had recently made statements regarding how he had predicted Iran’s current crisis.

Moslehi  did not mention Rafsanjani by name, but referred to “someone who introduces himself as a forecaster of the 2009 sedition, when in actuality he didn’t predict anything, and he himself created the sedition.” It is believed that Rafsanjani, for various political reasons, supported opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi in the 2009 elections. Even after street protests had erupted, Rafsanjani took a conciliatory tone, causing him to lose his position as a Friday prayer leader in Tehran.

Moslehi continued that this “forecaster” had “a fundamental role in the sedition, and he was not confronted because of considerations of certain individuals and today he is free, but he shouldn’t demand anything from the system.” He added that “this individual, who instigated the naïve leaders of the sedition and those around him, was pushing the march of sedition, but today the open eyes of the system are monitoring his movements and will in no way allow the events of 2009 to take place again.”

As far as the elections are concerned, Moslehi said that “all of the groups who want to prepare themselves for the elections must make clear their boundaries with the sedition and seditionists, and prove their obedience to the supreme leader in their actions.”

Rafsanjani has not announced his candidacy. His recent statements appear to indicate that he would like to play a role in the elections while not running himself.

Seven Members Chosen for High Executive Election Board

One of the changes to the presidential elections this year is that the Interior Ministry will have a smaller role in both executive and oversight duties. Previously, elections were carried out solely by the Interior Ministry.

This year, due to concerns that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would use his influence in the Interior Ministry to promote his preferred candidate, election laws were reformed with the approval of the Guardian Council. Others also have speculated that Article 31 of the new election law was pushed forward due to fears that if Ahmadinejad ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashei is disqualified to run for the presidency by the Guardian Council, the president would attempt to delay or postpone the elections.

Under the new law, the 2013 elections will be carried out by the ministers of interior and intelligence, the state prosecutor, a representative of parliament and seven permanent members which were chosen today. Among the seven permanent members are justice minister Morteza Bakhtiari, parliament member Ismael Kowsari, parliament member Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, the supreme leader’s representatives to the universities Reza Taghvi, the supreme leader’s representative to the Martyr’s Foundation Mohammad Hassan Rahimian and Ansieh Khazali, the only female on the 11-member executive election board.

Although according to the law this body should have been chosen three months before the June 14 elections, it was delayed due to postponements by the president’s office.

Editor Close to Khamenei Calls Former Reformist President ‘Corrupt on Earth’

shariatmadari The editor of Kayhan newspaper has come under intense criticism for his attacks in an op-ed against former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Kayhan’s editor is picked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the paper is distributed widely in government offices. On Monday, Hossein Shariatmadari wrote that “these days, some people who in a clear way and with hundreds of undeniable documents revealing their role in the 2009 sedition as a fifth column for America, Israel, England, — ‘corrupt on earth’ and ‘traitor’ are the clearest words to describe them — by announcing their candidacy for the presidency … which clearly has been initiated by those outside the country, talk about returning to the key responsibilities of the system.” Although Khatami was not mentioned by name, it was clear he was the individual Shariatmadari was writing about for his position during the 2009 protests and his recent statement regarding his possible candidacy for the presidency. A conviction for being “corrupt on earth” carries the death penalty. Shariatmadari continued “It should be asked: Where in the world and based on what legal system is the enemy’s recognized fifth column even allowed to breath?” He continued, “Can the leaders and agents of the sedition point to any action that was not a direct recommendation from America, Israel and England? Is not the claim of fraud in the elections, with the recommendation of the Zionist George Soros, made with the goal of attacking the republicanism of the system? Is not the chant “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran” a desire of the Zionist regime against International Quds Day?” Quds (Jerusalem) Day began after the 1979 Iranian revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini to show support for the Palestinian people. The article also pointed to statements made by Barack Obama, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu in support of the protest movements, asking, “Did they not leave their fingerprints on the traitorous identity of the seditionists?” Shariatmadari concluded that “the leaders and agents of the sedition not only do not have the smallest qualification for the most insignificant positions, but should expect to be tried and punished.” Mohsen Ismaeli, a member of the Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates, responded to Shariatmadari’s article. He said that “no one can judge on behalf of the Guardian Council. After the registrations, the Guardian Council will announce those approved. These speculations have no basis or influence on the Guardian Council, and perhaps they’re not appropriate for the political climate of the country.” He added, “So far, no discussions about any particular candidate have been raised” in the Guardian Council. The opposition Kalameh website, which is close to Mir Hussein Mousavi, wrote in response to Shariatmadari’s op-ed that “this isn’t Shariatmadari’s first immoral and unprofessional act, and it won’t be his last … because he learned journalism through artillery training and politics through Sepah’s (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps) political office.” The article added “eventually, we have to know whether Shariatmadari is a media activist, the supreme leader’s representative or a judge.” Mohammad Khatami has not responded to Shariatmadari’s latest attack, either directly or indirectly. The Entekhab website reported today that “it is certain that Seyyed Mohammad Khatami will not run in the elections.” No official statement from Khatami has yet been released.

Iranian Media Clash Over Ahmadinejad’s Embrace of Chavez’s Mother

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A picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embracing the mother of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died last week from cancer, has been a major source of controversy among the Iranian media.

In the picture taken last week at Chavez’s funeral Ahamdinejad can be seen touching the hands of the grieving Elena Frias de Chavez, Chavez’s mother, under the watchful eye of his Deputy Hojat al Islam Mohammad Reza Mirtaj Aldini.

The picture immediately went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Most users either joked about his sincerity or wondered how religious circles would react back in Iran. Islamic law forbids the touching of unrelated men and women. The reaction from religious circles was swift.

Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi, member of Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, said that “in relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram) we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment.” He warned the Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates in Iran’s elections, to investigate a candidate’s religious understanding “because someone who doesn’t know religion will make what is allowed forbidden and what is forbidden allowed.” Some still question the Guardian Council’s decision to approve the then unknown Ahmadinejad’s candidacy for the president in 2005.

Conservative member of parliament Seyyed Mohammad Pourfatemi encouraged clerics and sources of emulation (marajeh) to “confront seriously and condemn the president’s latest actions and not allow him to do what as he pleases when it comes to infringing Islamic laws.” And Esfahan Friday prayer leader and Ahmadinejad critic, Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, said that the actions of the president “are far from the status of a Muslim.”

Iranian media coverage of Ahmadinejad’s embrace not only received extensive coverage but was filled with controversy and accusations of competing media outlets.

As reported by Asre Khabar, when supporters of the president noticed the publication of the photo between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother they “first contacted inside (Iranian) media […] to prevent the publication of the picture.” Unsuccessful, Shabakeye Iran, the online version of Iran Newspaper, which is under the management of the administration, quickly came to the president’s defense.

Shabakeye Iran claimed that the president had attempted to “put his hands together and raise them in the manner of people from East Asia.” The site published a series of photos of Ahmadinejad greeting different women in a similar gesture as below. This time however, according to Shabakeye Iran, Chavez’s “grieving mother, with tears coming down from her eyes, suddenly put her hands on top of his.”

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A picture soon began circulating of Ahmadinejad embracing an older man, in a similar gesture as he embraced Chavez’s mother. Conservative website Entekhab pointed out that according to an investigation by “experts” that the picture of Ahamdinejad with an older male was photoshopped from a picture of Egypt’s Mohamad El Baradei greeting with parliament chairman Ali Larijani. Entekhab accused “supporters of the government” of spreading the doctored photo of the embrace and Shabakeye Iran of giving it coverage.

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Another doctored photo of the president also began circulating across social media showing the president embracing Hugo Chavez’s daughter. Shabakeye Iran took screenshots of Hardline Iranian media reporting the story and titled the piece, “Damaging The President With Hastily Done Embellishment.” The female in the picture does not appear to be either of Chavez’s daughters and looks similar to another picture of the president holding a young man on a trip to the provinces.

Mirtaj Aldini who can be seen attempting to pull away Ahamdinejad’s hands away from Chavez’s mother in the picture below called the picture of the embrace between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother a “forgery.” He said that the president only wanted to “respond the feelings of Chavez’s mother, who was crying and said that Ahmadinejad is like my own son.”

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Not all media reaction was partisan, however. Several hard-line websites ran an op-ed by Hojat al-Islam Hossein Souzanchi in which he warned against the “probable wave of useless” coverage this situation would create. Souzanchi wrote that although he “didn’t want to defend Ahmadinejad,” he wanted to note that the “problems with Khatami and Ahmadinejad are different.” In 2007 former president Mohammad Khatami was filmed shaking hands with a female in Italy. In a speech Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Reza Zaeri drew a comparison between the two situations.

Souzanchi wrote “that the problem with Khatami was that with the excuse of freedom he wanted to get away from religion having a role in interactions and decisions in the social arena and this isn’t the problem with Ahmadinejad.” He stressed that “from a religious perspective, adding fuel to this situation is not justified,” adding that it would be “playing the enemy’s game.”

Top Photo: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers his condolences to Elena Frias, mother of Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, during the funeral service at the Military Academy in Caracas, March 8, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Miraflores Palace)