Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, with Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei… (Abedin Taherkenareh / European…)
TEHRAN — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday denounced as unjust the supervisory electoral body's disqualification of his top aide from next month's presidential poll and said he plans to appeal to the nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad spoke a day after the powerful Guardian Council, which vets candidates, barred the outgoing president's confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the nation's most illustrious political figures, from the June 14 election.
The council gave no reason for disqualifying Mashaei and Rafsanjani, who were considered wild cards for the presidency. Critics have said the two rivals were not sufficiently loyal to Khamenei, who has the final say on matters of state.
Tuesday's decisions enraged the pair's many supporters and threatened to reduce voter turnout.
Ahmadinejad told reporters that Mashaei was "unjustly treated," according to the conservative Fars News Agency. "I have presented … Mashaei as a righteous and religious person who could be useful for the country."
The president said he hoped that Khamenei would reverse the decision of the council, a 12-member body of senior clerics and jurists.
Rafsanjani's supporters expressed similar hope for their candidate. But Rafsanjani's camp has said he would not file a formal appeal.
The 78-year-old former president was one of the pillars of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Detractors, however, have accused him of "sedition" because of his criticism of the crackdown on protesters after the last presidential poll in 2009. Ahmadinejad was elected to a second and final term amid widespread allegations of vote rigging and mass demonstrations.
Rafsanjani's prospective candidacy had galvanized reformists eager to end Iran's diplomatic isolation and help improve its economy, battered by Western-led sanctions. His disqualification left many disillusioned and saying they might not vote.
Among those reportedly calling on the supreme leader to intervene on Rafsanjani's behalf and allow him on the ballot was Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini, the daughter of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution.
Observers said it was unlikely that the supreme leader would invalidate the council's verdict and allow either of the two sidelined candidates a place on the ballot. Khamenei was undoubtedly apprised of the council's deliberations, observers said, and may have signed off on the decisions, or even encouraged them.
The Guardian Council approved eight presidential candidates for next month's election. Most are considered establishment-friendly and unlikely to antagonize the ruling coalition of hard-line clerics and like-minded allies in the Revolutionary Guard and other government institutions and factions.
Ahmadinejad has frequently clashed with the cleric-dominated establishment and has fallen out of favor in recent years. With his handpicked successor barred from running, Ahmadinejad and his allies face increased political isolation once the populist firebrand steps down. Iran's term limits law prevented Ahmadinejad from seeking office again.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer McDonnell from Beirut.