Developments this weekend have put a question mark over one of the running assumptions about Iranian politics, namely that the Supreme Leader and his advisors have control of the decision in the Presidential election.
On Saturday, a high-profile group of principlist politicians --- including four Presidential candidates --- declared that they are forming a coalition for the campaign.
The four candidates --- former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki; Deputy Speakers of Parliament Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard and Mohammad Reza Bahonar; and former Minister of Interior Mostafa Pourmohammadi --- and the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Yahya Al-e Es’haq --- appear to be reacting to the regime's failure to find a "unity" candidate in June.
In particular, the formation of the coalition poses questions about the Supreme Leader-backed "2+1 Committee", which had been tasked early this year to get the "right" man before the voters. Ayatollah Khamenei's senior aide Ali Akbar Velayati, one of the three men on the committee, told journalists that it would not merge with the five-man coalition.
Of course, the Supreme Leader's group could have given private support, or at least consent, for the new faction, called the "Followers of Imam's Line and Leadership Front". However, the prospect remains that the Presidential candidates made their move to "bump" the Committee into making a decision for the election.
And that, at least, puts the 2+1 Committee to the test --- and possibly threatens the Presidential ambitions of its other members, leading MP Gholam Ali Haddad Adel and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf. Does it pick one of its own or does it tap one of the four candidates in the new Front to become President?
The Rafsanjani Camp Makes A Move
But there is even more for the Supreme Leader's Committee to consider. On Sunday, supporters of Hassan Rouhani --- former lead nuclear negotiator and current member of the Expediency Council --- will formally announce his candidacy on Thursday.
That is significant because Rouhani is an ally of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Indeed, last week well-placed sources said that, because Rafsanjani would not stand in the election, Rouhani would be the "new Rafsanjani" in the campaign.
What's more, Rouhani is on good terms with the Supreme Leader. So could a connections between Ayatollah Khamenei's camp and that of Rafsanjani extend to support for Rouhani as the next President?
To review, far from getting a clearer picture on how the regime is going to organise the Presidential election, the weekend's developments have confirmedat least seven factions:
1. The Supreme Leader's Committee, which has yet to name a candidate;
2. The "Followers of Imam's Line and Leadership Front", with its four Presidential candidates;
3. The Rafsanjani camp;
4. President Ahmadinejad's camp, who would like to put forth Ahmadinejad's right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, but may have to settle for Minister of Roads Ali Nikzad;
5. The "hard-line" Endurance Front, including leading cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, which has been relatively quiet and has not announced a preference;
6. Other conservative and principlist candidates, the most vocal of whom has been Mohsen Rezaei, Secretary of the Expediency Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards;
7. The reformists, some of whom will participate in the election but who are unlikely to have a high-profile candidate unless former President Mohammad Khatami stands and who have been crippled by the regime's restrictions.