Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the country Wednesday when he registered to run for the top job again, in next month’s election — despite recently saying he had no interest in the job. The surprise announcement also defies a warning from Iran’s supreme leader in September that he should not take part in the election.
In front of reporters from the AP, Ahmadinejad visited the Interior Ministry and filed the necessary documents just one day after registration opened. Current President Hassan Rouhani — until now seen as a shoe-in for a second term in office — hasn’t even registered for the election yet, though 197 other hopefuls have.
In September, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that Ahmadinejad should not make a return to politics, four years after his second term as president finished. But the hard-line conservative has decided to ignore the advice of Iran’s most powerful figure.
“The supreme leader requested that I don’t stand, and I had accepted,” Ahmadinejad told reporters. “It was advice. He said that he won’t say stand or don’t stand. My registration here is for the support of my dear brother Mr. Baghaei.”
Ahmadinejad was referring to his ally Hamid Baghaei, who also signed up for the May 19 election, with some suggesting that the former president is hedging his bets that one of them will make it through the vetting process. All candidacies need to be approved by the powerful Guardian Council, which checks all applicants.
Ahmadinejad served as president from 2005 until 2013, though his reelection in 2009 was mired in controversy when opponents accusing the government of vote-rigging. Having been out of politics for four years, under Iranian law he is permitted to run for office again.
Ahmadinejad is known in the West for his hard-line stance on expanding Iran’s nuclear program, and he has made repeated statements questioning the extent of the Holocaust and threatening Israel.
Rouhani, on the other hand, is a cleric and relative moderate, who came to power on promises to work more closely with the Western world and end the crippling sanctions imposed because of the belief that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.
In 2015 Rouhani signed the historic nuclear deal, which may have limited Tehran’s nuclear ability but lifted international oil and financial sanctions which had significantly hurt the country’s economy.
While Rouhani had been seen as a shoe-in to retain his position, he has faced strong criticism for failing to fulfil promises of economic growth since the lifting of sanctions.
It’s not just Ahmadinejad who is threatening Rouhani’s second term in office. Last week Ebrahim Raisi, conservative cleric and close ally of Khamenei, also announced his candidacy. Having both Raisi and Ahmadinejad on the ballot may work in Rouhani’s favor, as they are likely to split the conservative vote.