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Iran Analysis: 4 Key Questions as Guardian Council Decides Final List of Presidential Candidates

Iran's Guardian Council will tell the Minister of Interior today which Presidential hopefuls will be allowed to campaign for the 14 June election.

Almost all of the 686 who registered while be disqualified; however, a relatively large contingent of politicians, perhaps more than 30, will be accepted.

This means that --- with the Supreme Leader's camp unable to agree a "unity" candidate despite five months of effort --- we still will not have clarity on the three or four front-runners until next week, after other candidates have withdrawn and made endorsements.

We can make some educated guesses, however, based on the Guardian Council's white smoke and answers to these four questions:

1. Will Hashemi Rafsanjani Be Allowed to Run?

Ever since he registered at the last minute on 11 May, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has galvanised attention and speculation.

Rafsanjani, President from 1989 to 1997 and defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 campaign, immediately took up a front-runner's position. People gathered in streets and shouted his name as soon as they learned of the candidacy, and key groups such as "moderate conservatives", clerics, and reformists offered their support.

The prospect of a Rafsanjani victory immediately raised the question of whether the Guardian Council would block the possibility. Last week, media outlets such as the "hard-line" Kayhan and some MPs --- including the Supreme Leader's ally Gholam Ali Haddad Adel --- put out reasons for disqualification, declaring Rafsanjani's support of "sedition" in 2009 and pointing to his age.

It was only on Monday, however, that this sniping crystallised at the highest level, with the Guardian Council saying that it could block hopefuls on the grounds of "physical condition". Inevitably, observers saw the 78-year-old Rafsanjani as the subject of the message.  2+1 Coalition member Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, who said that the former President was too old and did not have the energy to run for President again.

Given Rafsanjani's contentious relationship with the Government and elements of the regime since 2009, when he used a Tehran Friday Prayer to back protests over the disputed election of Ahmadinejad, will the Supreme Leader's men allow him to campaign?

I think they will, given the danger of a backlash from the public as well as Rafsanjani's political base if he is stopped. So that raises the second question....

2. Will Saeed Jalili Be Promoted as the "Consensus" Candidate?

The logical way to stop Rafsanjani would be to defeat him with a "unity" candidate on 14 June. However, the Supreme Leader's camp should have not even reached this point --- it was supposed to forestall the challenge from Rafsanjani or any other rival, such as President Ahmadinejad's faction, by having its choice in place weeks ago.

Each of the possibilities on the Supreme Leader's 2+1 Committee --- leading MP Haddad Adel, Ayatollah Khamenei's senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf --- have their deficiencies, however.

Into the vacuum has stepped Saeed Jalili, a former member of the Supreme Leader's office and current Secretary of the National Security Committee. Although he has no electoral experience, Jalili has put together an impressive team with skills in networking and social media.

The outcome has been a surge to front-runner status and implicit endorsement by elements of Iran's military, in which Jalili served in the 1980s. On Monday, he picked up the support of the "hard-line" Perserverance Front.

Will other conservatives and principlists, such as the "Coalition of 5" leading politicians and the powerful factions in Iran's bazaars, also back Jalili?

Most importantly, will the Supreme Leader now anoint Jalili as his man to face Rafsanjani in the final contest?

That seems a logical outcome but....

3. How Will Tehran Mayor Qalibaf Respond?

Two of the three members of the Supreme Leader's committee --- Velayati and Haddad Adel --- have effectively ruled themselves out of the race through lack-lustre campaigns and their apparent lack of appeal to the electorate.

Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, however, can claim that appeal through eight years as Mayor of Tehran, despite his failure to best Ahmadinejad in the 2005 Presidential election. He has also made clear that he does not want to stand down in this race.

So will Qalibaf persist, even if other groups and even the Supreme Leader's office back Jalili?

The Tehran Mayor has been quiet in the last 48 hours. His signals --- or lack of them --- in the next 48 could be telling as whether Jalili, with Khamenei's backing, can establish his "consensus" position.

4. Are Ahmadinejad and his man Rahim-Mashai Now Marginal?

In the days after registration closed, there was inevitable chatter about whether the Guardian Council will block President Ahmadinejad's would-be successor, former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

That chatter is now peripheral, at least to the extent of Rahim-Mashai as a possible victor. Despite lots of hype earlier this year about an Ahmadinejad political and media machine, it has produced little in the last 10 days as a challenge to the Jalili and Rafsanjani efforts. Meanwhile, Rahim-Mashai continues to be a convenient whipping boy for rival conservatives and principlists.

If Rahim-Mashai gets through today --- and that is a big if, given the relatively small risk compared to the disqualification of Rafsanjani --- then he is at best a first-round "spoiler" on 14 June, taking votes from other candidates.

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