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Iran Analysis: Presidential Election --- Rafsanjani and Khatami Put Supreme Leader in a Corner

Hashemi Rafsanjani & Mohammad KhatamiOn the opening day of formal declarations of candidacy for June's Presidential election, the biggest noise came from former President Mohammad Khatami, heralding the likely entry of another former President --- Hashemi Rafsanjani --- into the race.

Khatami endorsed a Rafsanjani candidacy as a "victory for everyone" and then laid down a challenge for the Supreme Leader:

I was pleased yesterday when Mr. Hashemi said he was prepared to run, if the Supreme Leader does not oppose it. It's correct that if the Supreme Leader does not want someone to run, that would cause a problem, and I say why would the Supreme Leader oppose it?

Translation: either Ayatollah Khamenei accepts Rafsanjani's candidacy, which will shake up an already unsettled process and possibly put it beyond the Supreme Leader's control....

...or the Supreme Leader black-balls Rafsanjani, likely incurring blame for blocking one of Iran's highest-profile politicians.

As an EA correspondent summarised, "The Supreme Leader is between a rock and a hard place."

Even before Khatami's intervention, Ayatollah Khamenei's camp faced trouble on Tuesday. The declaration of 62 candidates in itself was not significant --- hundreds of hopefuls, almost of whom will be knocked back by the Guardian Council, will file this week.

However, among those 62 were a number of prominent names, unusual in a process where the "big guns" usually enter at the end of the period for filing on Saturday. Rafsanjani's ally Hassan Rohani entered. So did a number of conservative and principlist politicians, as well as the reformist Mostafa Kavakebian.

The rush of declarations reinforced the conclusion that the Supreme Leader's 2+1 Committee, after months of manoeuvres, has failed to control the race by setting forth a "unity" candidate.  Tabnak --- linked to Presidential hopeful Mohsen Rezaei --- highlighted,  "Everyone and his dog wants to stand."

So what's next?

The Supreme Leader's inner circle not only have to make a decision on Rafsanjani. They also have to grasp the nettle before Saturday and put out their standard-bearer.

But who will it be?

The likely choice has always been one of the three members of the 2+1 Committee --- the Supreme Leader's senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, leading MP and Khamenei relative Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, or Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.

However, that choice has not been made after four months. Khamenei's camp appear to be worried that Velayati is an ineffective campaigner and that Haddad Adel lacks broad support.

And Qalibaf? The concern for the Supreme Leader is that the Mayor is too independent to be effectively controlled.

Khamenei may have to swallow hard, however, and put forth Qalibaf against Rafsanjani. Our correspondent writes:

Qalibaf keeps saying opinion polls are right and I am following opinion polls [that show him in the lead among likely voters].

If Qalibaf doesn't show up for the race, the Supreme Leader's people are left with an array of petty candidates across the board.

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