Iran Election Watch 2013: Could Hashemi-Rafsanjani be disqualified from running by the Council of Guardians?

Since former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani entered the 2013 Iranian presidential election, many have debated the significance of this move. One must be skeptical of his chances of winning if he is allowed to participate in the election and his ability to rule if he is elected. But could he be disqualified, even before the formal campaign has begun?

To some it may seem that the chances of an elder statesman like Hashemi-Rafsanjani being disqualified by the Council of Guardians from running in the 2013 election is remote. Yet rumblings by hardliners over the last several days should give observers reason for doubt. Their lines of attack have criticized his age, economic record during his presidency, support for the Green Movement, and the accusation that anti-revolutionary forces have been mobilized by his registration for candidacy. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan daily newspaper believed to express the views of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered one of the most severe blows on 21 May. In an editorial entitled “The Ayatollah’s Complaint”, Shariatmadari quoted Hashemi-Rafsanjani regarding his own age and inability to govern:

“My age is such that I do not have the necessary strength for the presidency and managing the nation’s affairs and I believe my becoming president is against Shari’a and to the detriment of the regime.”

Shariatmadari also asserted that the anti-regime opposition and West were rallying behind Hashemi-Rafsanjani, making him a pawn. He mused that the Council of Guardians should do Hashemi-Rafsanjani the favor of preventing him from becoming a pawn in their hands.

The excitement and surprise over Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s potentially candidacy on the part of Iranians and Western observers, even if he is not disqualified, is somewhat exaggerated. From the perspective of the regime the potential threat is clear: If Hashemi-Rafsanjani is allowed to run as a candidate and loses, could allegations of electoral fraud emerge and lead to demonstrations by his supporters that undermine the election’s legitimacy? Even if the possibility appears remote, better to have the CoG disqualify him now than let him enter the race and become an even bigger threat.