DUBAI (Reuters) - The former commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards announced on Monday he would run in a sensitive presidential election set to be dominated by conservatives vying to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mohsen Rezaie stood in the last tumultuous 2009 election, finishing third, and made a complaint that Ahmadinejad’s re-election had been rigged, before withdrawing the allegations days later.
Mass street protests against the disputed results rocked Tehran and other cities in 2009, only to be crushed by security forces and militia.
Rezaie was commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for 16 years until 1997. He was subsequently appointed secretary of the Expediency Council, a body that advises Iran’s most powerful man, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
To prevent the next president from challenging Khamenei’s authority, his close advisers are looking to unite around a single hardline candidate to minimise chances of the virulent divisions between leading conservatives that analysts say could open the way to further election disputes.
Analysts say Rezaie’s candidacy may complicate the picture and draw support away from a “unity” candidate, yet to be decided.
“Currently the main problem facing people is the economic issue and economic development should be accomplished as well as political development,” Fars news agency quoted Rezaie as saying after announcing his candidacy in Divandare in Kurdistan province, in eastern Iran.
“Today income is the people’s basis of life and we must implement plans to reduce the cost of living and raise their income levels.”
He had already indicated his intention to be a candidate.
“In the last election Rezaie set his stall out quite clearly, was by far the most effective in dismantling Ahmadinejad during the debates,” said Iran analyst Ali Ansari of Scotland’s St Andrew’s University.
“Initially he alleged fraud until he was persuaded that the threat to the system was so great it was best if he did not stoke the fires further,” he said.
“While he has kept his powder dry I think he is a dark horse that needs to be watched.”
Rezaie criticised authorities for their handling of the 2009 election and the demonstrations that followed it, saying the Islamic Republic could face collapse unless it embraced change.
As Iran remains locked in a stand-off with world powers over its nuclear programme, rifts have emerged between Ahmadinejad and rivals loyal to Khamenei.
The struggle between president and parliament intensified in recent weeks when Ahmadinejad publicly accused relatives of parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani of using their positions for financial gain.
Khamenei loyalists are scrambling to eradicate the power and influence of the more nationalist Ahmadinejad, who they fear will back a candidate to pursue what they say is his plan to weaken the influence of Iran’s clergy and the Supreme Leader.
Iranian media have suggested Ahmadinejad is grooming his former chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his approved candidate, but there has been no official word.
Reformists are unlikely to be allowed to run unless they distance themselves from Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who lost out in the 2009 election and who have been under house arrest for more than two years accused of “seditious acts”.
Both opposition leaders said the 2009 vote was rigged and their supporters took to the streets in huge numbers to protest.
Reporting by Marcus George; editing by Andrew Roche