Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered for next month’s presidential election in apparent defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s advice not to run to avoid polarizing the country.
Ahmadinejad turned up at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday, the second day of registration for hopeful candidates, flashing a V for victory sign. His ally, Hamid Baghaei, also signed up to run in the May 19 race. Their candidacies are subject to the approval of the Guardian Council, a powerful body in charge of vetting all applicants.
Ahmadinejad, whose two terms in office were marred by repeated confrontations with the U.S. and Western powers, said last week he had no plans to stand in the election and that he would instead endorse Baghaei. Speaking at the ministry, he played down his chances of winning, insisting that his move was only to show support for his former deputy.
“The supreme leader requested that I don’t stand and I had accepted,” Ahmadinejad told reporters. “It was advice. He said that he won’t say stand or don’t stand. My registration here is for the support of my dear brother Mr. Baghaei.”
President Hassan Rouhani, who succeeded Ahmadinejad in 2013 and is credited with engineering the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, is expected to stand for reelection. His main challenger is conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old ally of Khamenei, whose surprise announcement to run last week jolted a race previously seen as an easy contest for the president.
Ahmadinejad’s eight years in office saw a tightening of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic to curb its nuclear program. His 2009 victory was widely contested by critics and activists who accused authorities of rigging the vote, a charge Iranian officials have denied. His second term was fraught with quarrels involving top officials.
At least 70 hopefuls have signed up since registration opened at the ministry in Tehran on Tuesday in a process that runs until April 15.