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Who Will Be Iran's Next President?

Hassan Khomeini (center), with reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi (left) and ex-President Mohammad Khatami

Hassan Khomeini (center), with reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi (left) and ex-President Mohammad Khatami

The Iranian government and the opposition are each getting ready for the first anniversary of the country's disputed presidential vote. Yet there's already talk about the presidential election that should take place in three years -- and some names are floating around as possible future candidates.

Meanwhile, a question that has been raised in recent weeks is whether there will even be a 2013 presidential election.

The "Tabnak" website reported recently that an individual with close ties to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has launched "extensive moves" with an eye to the 11th presidential election. The report suggests the unnamed individual is planning to open an office in the holy city of Qom and create a news website or news agency that will cover seminary-related news and news about Qom clerics in order to foster closer relations with them.

"Tabnak" claims that relatives and others close to that aspiring presidential candidate are planning to buy a major newspaper and take over the management of a soon-to-be-published government paper so as to use it for campaign purposes.

"Tabnak" doesn't name the individual, but there has been speculation that Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei, might be a future presidential candidate.

There have been also rumors about another Ahmadinejad aide: special adviser Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, although some observers counter that he likes to remain behind the scenes. Another individual whose name has come up in the context of the next presidential election is Mehrdad Pazrpash, who used to advise Ahmadinejad on youth-related issues.

Among conservatives seen as critics of Ahmadinejad, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani is discussed as a possible candidate for the 2012 presidential vote. Larijani was a candidate in the 2005 presidential vote, when he placed sixth.

There's also some buzz about Tehran's mayor and former presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf as a candidate in the future presidential vote.

The name of Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has also come up in relation to the future presidential vote.

Several hard-line websites, including "Ravayat," have cited a report by the pro-Ahmadinejad "Sanyehnews" that claims Hassan Khomeini has already announced his candidacy and boasted that he already has the votes of 30 million Iranians. The report quotes Khomeini as saying that the elite see him as a reformist while the public regards him as above the political fray because of his family ties.

The report quotes former President Mohammad Khatami as saying that Khomeini should first stand as a candidate in the parliamentary elections -- where he'd presumably be supported by the reformists -- and then shoot for the presidency.

The reformist "Parlemannews" described the report as highly "suspicious" and said that elements are trying to damage Hassan Khomeini by linking him to the reformists and announcing his candidacy.

Thirty-nine-year-old Hassan Khomeini has already come under attack from hard-liners over the issue of support for the opposition Green Movement. Khomeini reportedly backed former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi in last year's presidential vote, and he was absent from Ahmadinejad's swearing-in ceremony.

His support for the opposition movement is a blow for the hard-liners who claim they are the true followers and defenders of the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The report of his alleged candidacy suggests that hard-liners see him as a threat and worry that he might someday involve himself in politics -- something he has so far avoided.

While prominent reformists and opposition figures are likely to be disqualified by the Guardians Council that oversees elections and vets candidates, even that powerful body might find it difficult to disqualify the grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini if he ever stood for elected office.

Another name that has come up in relation to the reformist camp is former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref, who served under Khatami and is seen as a moderate reformist. He announced his candidacy for last year's presidential vote but later withdrew it.

Iran's next presidential election is three years away, and the country is still dealing with the fallout from last year's declared victory for Ahmadinejad.

Much could depend on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and which candidate he eventually decides to support. Khamenei had implied support for Ahmadinejad before last year's vote.

Last month, the head of the Judiciary's human rights office, Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Larijani, was quoted as saying in a speech in Mazandaran that it was" a pity" that the president in Iran could only have two consecutive terms because "Ahmadinejad's performance has been better in his second term than in his first."

The comments led to speculation that the Iranian establishment might try to give Ahmadinejad another term by changing the constitution or orchestrating other measures that could include a referendum. Larijani later said he was deeply convinced that the presidency should be limited to two terms and that he opposes prolonging the term based on "political analysis and interest of the establishment."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.