While many Iranians remain undecided about who they will vote for in the June 14 presidential election, one of the country's most powerful military commanders has apparently made up his mind.
Last week, Ayatollah Yahya Jafari, who is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative in Kerman and Kerman's Friday Prayer leader, said during a meeting with one of the eight presidential candidates that the candidate had already earned the vote of the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) Quds force, Qassem Soleimani.
Jafari told the former IRGC air-force commander and ex-Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf that Soleimani would vote for him, before echoing the sentiment himself.
"One night I was with Haj Qassem Soleimani and I asked him, 'Who will you vote for?' Haj Qassem Suleimani said, 'Qalibaf.' I also said I would vote for Qalibaf," Jafari said
The comment, widely quoted on Iranian websites, was interpreted by some as an endorsement of Qalibaf by the powerful IRGC, which has claimed that it won't interfere in the vote.
However, a day later, a senior IRGC public-relations official, Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif, appeared to distance the corps from the comments.
"IRGC does not confirm some statements that some individuals have recently attributed to IRGC commanders," he was quoted as saying
Sharif also added that IRGC had "never" supported any particular candidate or faction in any previous election. Many critics and opposition members -- including reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, who is currently under house arrest -- have accused the IRGC of interference in past elections and manipulation of the results.
Later, when asked whether he had denied that Soleimani supported Qalibaf, Sharif said
he hadn't been pointing to anyone in particular but that he had made some general comments about the IRGC's stances regarding the vote.
Kerman Friday Prayer leader Jafari also later apologized
for his comments and said he thought he was speaking in private.
"In my meeting with a presidential candidate, I did not realize that the media and others are present [and] I made those comments to the candidate in a personal conversation," Jafari said. "If I named any figure, it's because of my forgetfulness and lack of attention."
Meanwhile, Iranian news websites have circulated a video in recent days showing Qalibaf comforting Soleimani at a funeral ceremony for "Martyr Kazemi," an apparent reference to IRGC commander Ahmad Kazemi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2006.
The sites, including "Fararu,"
claim that the video demonstrates that the two men have a close relationship.
The video's origins are unclear. But the timing of its posting -- as Iran approaches the June 14 vote -- suggests it could be a move by Qalibaf's supporters.
Some reports published last year had claimed that nuclear negotiator Said Jalili was the IRGC's choice.
There has been more recent speculation that Jalili is the implicit candidate of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad's right-hand man, Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei, was prevented from running for the presidency by the Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates.
Jalili has reportedly denied the claims. An IRGC official who advises Khamenei's representative on political issues also appeared to dismiss
the idea that Jalili was Ahmadinejad's favored candidate.
Without naming Jalili, the head of the IRGC's political bureau, Yadollah Javani, suggested that any attempt to link one of the approved presidential candidates to Ahmadinejad was aimed at harming that man's candidacy.
"Rahim Mashaei was Ahmadinejad's choice. Tying another candidate to the government is aimed at destruction," he was quoted as saying
-- Golnaz Esfandiari