Iran’s supreme leader on Monday eliminated the possibility of a political comeback by the former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, state media reported.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s decision to warn Ahmadinejad against running eliminates a major challenger to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani during May’s vote.
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Khamenei said he told Ahmadinejad that a reelection bid was "not in the best interest of the country" given current societal divisions, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing the semiofficial Fars new agency. The supreme leader maintained that "unity among officials and people should prevail."
Though Ahmadinejad had not announced plans to mount a bid, he had delivered a series of speeches in recent months, giving rise to speculation that the populist conservative could again seek office.
Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005 and secured a second term in the disputed 2009 election that prompted Iran’s largest protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The subsequent crackdown killed several people and led to the arrest of hundreds.
Ahmadinejad drew ire from the West during his eight years in office through controversial statements and the circulation of conspiracy theories, including the denial of the Holocaust.
The news that he is not running has enhanced the chances of Rouhani, who vowed during his first presidential bid to improve relations with the West and escape economic sanctions, to win reelection in May.