Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, known for its proximity to the country’s Supreme Leader, has rejected the candidacy of two heavyweights -- former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Esfandiyar Rahim-Mashaei, a protégé of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- for next month’s Presidential elections.

Following the two rejections, the race for the Iranian Presidency would be fought mainly within the ranks of the conservatives, who may differ with each other in terms of age and style of functioning, but are united in their support for the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As a contemporary of the Supreme Leader, and on account of his high theological stature, Mr. Rafsanjani’s election as President, had his name been cleared by the Guardian Council, could have triggered a running battle between the executive and the Supreme Leader’s office, possibly also involving the higher clerical establishment based in Qom.

Iran’s reformist camp which had lost out in the controversial 2009 Presidential election had decided to back Mr. Rafsanjani, adding yet another likely element of political turbulence in Iran. Mr. Mashaei has already locked horns with a powerful section of the clergy, and is better known for his nationalist leanings rather than unqualified respect for Iran’s existing politico-religious establishment.

Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai had earlier suggested that it was unlikely that Mr. Rafsanjani -- who is 78 -- would be able to cope with the pressures of the Presidency. “An individual, who seeks to hold a senior administrative post but is only capable of doing work for several hours during the day, cannot be approved [to stand in the election],” he had told al-Alam Television.

Following the vetting by the Guardian Council, eight candidates have qualified for the June 14 Presidential election. These include Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s national Security Council and top negotiator on the nuclear issue, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current adviser to the Supreme Leader. Others in the fray are Tehran mayor and former Iran Air pilot, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf. The other contestants are Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei and President of the Center for Strategic Research of the Expediency Council Hassan Rohani. The list also includes former First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref, and former telecommunication minister, Mohammad Gharazi.

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