As the brawl between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani over their presidential candidates threatened to tip over from public mudslinging into violence, the supreme leader stepped in with a stop sign.
After a round of conferences with his aides this week, the ayatollah decided to withdraw his support from the Larijani brothers in the race for the June 12 presidential election – Ahmadinejad’s kinsman was never acceptable – and instead throw the regime’s backing behind a third runner who would not give the supreme leader sleepless nights.
So, he designed a filter for weeding out of the running any flamboyant or overly ambitious figures and leaving only candidates with certain characteristics, which are disclosed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources:
1. No ties in the circles of President Ahmadinejad or his kinsman Esfandyar Rahim Mashayee, who the president had put forward as his candidate for the next president of Iran. (See the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue: Infighting Rends Iranian Regime).
2. He must be a nondescript, grayish figure – personally and politically, but a competent administrator with executive skills.
3. He should not be a brilliant orator or endowed with charisma. Khamenei has had enough of a president running around Iran and the world making provocative speeches and hitting every headline.
4. He must be quickly available – by next week, at the latest – since time is running out for building up his campaign and getting in place the government, army and intelligence machinery for guaranteeing his win.
Tougher sanctions will hurt Ahmadinejad’s candidate
5. This proviso must have every US, European, Chinese, Gulf and Israeli official sitting at the edge of their seats: Khamenei wants the sanctions punishing Iran for its nuclear program to continue in the four months up until the vote – or even expand.
His reasoning is brutally simple: Any breakthrough in the nuclear impasse leading to the easing of sanctions will be credited to Ahmadinejad in the rural and poor parts of the country, which have been hit hardest by the sanctions, and boost the prospects of his candidate, Rahim-Mashayee.
This is the last thing Khamenei wants to see.
He has already ruled out direct negotiations with the United States. Now, he wants to make sure that the next round of talks with six world powers in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26 has no serious outcome. And if tougher sanctions result, so be it.
The current stage of Iran’s presidential race is outlined by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources:
A former parliament speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad, has risen to the top of Ayatollah Khamenei’s short list of possible candidates: He fits the bill on at least two points: He is fairly nondescript, has no ties with any political camp and, as an extra bonus, he is championed by Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who happens to be married to Haddad’s daughter.
Mojtaba and his brother Meytham founded a secret society to promote a candidate who would be easily manipulated. Haddad fits their bill as well as their father’s.
Gholam Ali-Haddad, the new Khamenei favorite
Aged 57, Haddad has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tehran and a master’s degree in physics. His wife is a senior lecturer at the university. He knows Arabic and English and a little French.
He has served the supreme leader for the past four years as senior advisor on important internal affairs after filling other posts in the government administration.
The Khameneis, father and sons, would trust Haddad to pull the country out of its crisis.
He has four potential rivals whose chances have declined since Haddad was put forward.
They are Mohsen Rezaee, former chief of the Revolutionary Guards and for the past 10 years secretary of a policy-making council, has thrown his hat in the ring. As a member of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani’s opposition faction, his prospects are not bright.
The powerful Speaker, Ali Larijani has spent four years touting his candidacy. His brother, Sadeq Larijani, head of Iran’s judicial system, was also a contestant. However, Khamenei decided to drop them both over the vicious infighting between their following and Ahmadinejad’s faction, before it explodes into violence and even reciprocal killings.
Another figure with a good chance until this week was Ali-Akbar Velayati (a medical doctor by profession), former foreign minister and currently senior advisor to Khamenei on international affairs. Has no faction to push his bid. Neither has he any experience in administering domestic affairs. He is therefore not qualified for the post of president at this time, with Iran sunk in severe economic woes and needing a strong hand at the helm.
Although the election is only four months off, it is too soon to tab the frontrunner with any certainty. Khamenei himself has taken flak from the factional rows within the regime. His sons, Mojtaba and Meytham, can’t be sure their man is a sure winner as the next president of Iran, until it is known which Revolutionary Guards commanders are in their pockets.