“March 20, marking the spring equinox, is the start of the Persian new year – Nowruz – a 13-day ancient Zoroastrian festival celebrated as the most important holiday of the Iranian calendar. The presidential elections, scheduled for 14 June, are taking place in the final days of the season. Ahmadinejad’s critics believe the president, who is prevented under Iranian law from running for a third term, is pursuing a Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle by grooming his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as his possible successor. Mashaei, a confidant of Ahmadinejad and his relative, is accused of advocating nationalism, greater cultural openness and attempting to undermine clerical rule, especially the supremacy of Khamenei. Opponents say that Mashaei is the head of a “deviant current” within the president’s inner circle and he has little respect for the supreme leader, although he denies it. If Mashaei does put his name forward for the presidential vote, the powerful pro-Khamenei Guardian Council will have to vet his candidacy. Many believe he will not be allowed to run, while others say Ahmadinejad will threaten to go out with all guns firing if that happens. Last week, in a ceremony held before Nowruz, Ahmadinejad awarded Mashaei the country’s highest cultural medal. Both men were recorded as using spring in their speeches. Keyhan, an ultra-conservative newspaper with a director appointed by Khamenei, has attacked the men for repeated references to spring, which it said could have un-Islamic connotations…………….”
The clerics can see now that the post of president may continue to be problematic for them. It has been so at least twice in the past, when the elected presidents clashed with the selected Supreme Leader. The very first president of Iran, Abolhassan BaniSadr disagreed with Ayatollah Khomeinei and had to flee the country to exile in Paris. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been engaged in a power struggle and is continuously clashing with the conservative clerics in Parliament who are allies of the leader. Even Khatami who was a reformist cleric clashed with the conservatives.
All this means the clerics will probably try to disqualify some of the reformist candidates, try to remove them from the list. Their main target will likely be Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, an ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad whom the current president supports. If he decides to run.
If the clerics disqualify Mashaei, Mr. Ahmadinejad may go rogue, more so than he has done so far. He might start to publicly question the separation of powers between the elected president and the unelected Supreme Leader. This will probably resonate among many young Iranians, even among some who are not so young. This should make the elections more exciting than seems likely right now; it might even invigorate some of the demoralized reformists even possibly some of the many closet secularists.