When Iran’s powerful election watchdog, the Guardians Council, announced its official list of presidential candidates this week, it omitted two prominent hopefuls from the June 14 presidential race.
The disqualification of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s preferred successor, has sparked an outcry from supporters, who have called on the two men to be reinstated.
The decision by the unelected Guardians Council, which vets all nominees and determines the official shortlist of candidates, has raised the question of what recourse, if any, is available to disqualified candidates who wish to challenge the decision.
According to the Guardians Council, which is under no obligation to explain its decision, barred candidates cannot appeal. Iran’s election laws grant the council sweeping powers that mean it may prohibit any presidential hopeful for almost any reason.
Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardians Council, said in an interview with Iran’s state TV on May 21 that there was "no provision in the election law for candidates to appeal." Kadkhodaei also said that there would be no period for appeals as official campaigning gets under way.
The only recourse candidates have to overturn the council’s decision is to appeal directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has immense influence over the 12-member council, all of them directly or indirectly appointed by him. Khamenei can overrule the council’s decision by passing a decree.
In fact, Khamenei did so in the 2005 presidential race when he intervened and reinstated Mostafa Moin and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, two reformist candidates.
Under Iran's Islamic system of government, known as "velayat-e faqih," a top cleric serves as supreme leader and has the final authority on all matters of state. The supreme leader’s legal and political authority over the country is also enshrined under Article 110 of the Iranian Constitution.
It came as no surprise then when Ahmadinejad said on May 22 that he would appeal directly to the supreme leader to reinstate his protege, Mashaei.
"I will pursue this case through the supreme leader until the last moment and I hope this problem will be solved," he said in remarks published on the presidency's website, President.ir.
Ahmadinejad, who cannot stand for reelection after serving two consecutive terms, called Mashaei a "pious, rightful, and competent man" who had been "a victim of injustice."
Mashaei called the decision to bar him from contesting the election unfair and said he would appeal to the supreme leader.
"We ask the supreme leader to review the Guardians Council's decision, which clearly seems to be a violation of the law. We also appeal to the president to use his legal position as the executive power of the constitution to correct this injustice," Mashaei was quoted as saying by "The Guardian” newspaper.
But Ahmadinejad has little power to intervene. In Iran, the president is the second-highest-ranking official, with his powers limited by the clerics in the country’s power structure and by the authority of the supreme leader.
Rafsanjani, meanwhile, appears to have accepted his disqualification. That's despite a plea from Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini, the daughter of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In an unprecedented letter to Khamenei, Mostafavi urged him to put Rafsanjani back on the official shortlist.
Rafsanjani's campaign manager, Eshagh Jahangiri, told the semiofficial ISNA news agency on May 22 that Rafsanjani "will not protest" the decision despite his stature as one of the leaders of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and his 1989-97 tenure as president.