Ahmadinejad’s critics -- who accuse him of attempting a power grab akin to what Russian President Vladimir Putin did when he stepped down to become prime minister for one term before retaking the presidency -- believe the meeting will be used by the Iranian president and his close circle to influence the June 14 presidential vote.
The dispute is just the latest episode in an ongoing power struggle between Ahmadinejad and hard-liners aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom he has repeatedly challenged.
The Iranian president’s second term ends in four months and the country’s constitution prevents him from running for a third term.
Some critics have referred to the gathering at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, which has a capacity of 100,000, as an election meeting. They say Ahmadinejad will use the occasion to unofficially announce the man he has groomed to succeed him, believed to be close aide Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei.
A presidential deputy was quoted last week as saying that the gathering is simply aimed at thanking the committee that facilitates travel inside Iran, an event that has been held before in other cities.
Ahmadinejad’s opponents are not convinced, however, and some appear to be moving to either cancel or control the event.
Earlier this week, the judiciary’s parliamentary adviser, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Banayi, said the judiciary is looking into the gathering.
He said if any election-related behavior takes place, the judiciary’s “prevention body” will take action.
The “Arman” daily reported on April 8 that senior lawmaker Mohammad Reza Pourebrahimi has asked Iran’s Supreme National Security Council to cancel the gathering. The daily added that the parliament’s National Security Committee is planning to look into the reasons behind the gathering and its possible dimensions. That, “Arman” reports, could result in its cancellation.
But the daily also asks whether it’s not too late for such a move, writing: “Will the government allow such an important and vital meeting, on which it has certainly spent a lot of money, to be so easily canceled?”
-- Golnaz Esfandiari
*CORRECTION: Despite initial reports, the date of the planned rally is April 18, according to Iranian media.