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After Ahmadinejad

WASHINGTON, DC – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s preferred successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, will not be running in the June 14 election. Neither will former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The disqualification of both sends a strong message from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. Simply put, Khamenei will not tolerate any diminution of his power, and he is determined to avoid the type of friction that has characterized his relationships with previous presidents, particularly Ahmadinejad.

The disqualification of Mashai and Rafsanjani reveals, once again, the schism embedded at the heart of Iran’s political structure by the dual executive of Supreme Leader and President. When Khamenei publicly supported Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in 2009, no one could have predicted the unprecedented tensions that would subsequently emerge between the country’s two main authorities.

But supporting Ahmadinejad turned out to be a costly decision for Khamenei – and for the Islamic Republic. Instead of aligning himself with Khamenei, as expected, Ahmadinejad began to promote a nationalist, anti-clerical agenda, effectively using Khamenei’s resources to challenge the supreme leader’s authority and to establish his own economic network and sphere of influence.

Over the last four years, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly tried to undermine the ruling clerics’ control over political and policy decisions. In 2011, he attempted to dismiss Heider Moslehi, an ally of Khamenei, from his position as intelligence chief, but was quickly overruled. He has also reduced the resources channeled to certain religious institutions, helped those in his circle to establish private banks by easing regulations, and challenged Iran’s most powerful economic and military institution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).