NewsSpecial WireIran’s new President snubs election rival Rafsanjani

Iran’s new President snubs election rival Rafsanjani

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Iran Focus: Tehran, Iran, Aug. 13 – In two public moves in less than 24 hours, Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad snubbed former president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and highlighted the simmering tensions between the two rivals in the recent presidential elections. Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Aug. 13 – In two public moves in less than 24 hours, Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad snubbed former president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and highlighted the simmering tensions between the two rivals in the recent presidential elections.

Ahmadinejad failed to turn up on Saturday for a regular meeting of the State Expediency Council, the country’s top arbitration body chaired by Rafsanjani. Photographs of Rafsanjani with the empty chair reserved for the country’s president empty next to him were carried by domestic news agencies.

A day earlier, Ahmadinejad who has made a point of turning up for Friday prayers in Tehran for the past few weeks did not attend the prayers that were led by Rafsanjani.

Asked about Ahmadinejad’s absence in the State Expediency Council’s meeting, Mohsen Rezai, the council’s secretary, told journalists, “The President has been very busy these days, as he tries to select his cabinet and introduce the ministers to the Majlis”.

Senior aides to Rafsanjani say the former president has been sharply critical of the ultra-conservative Ahmadinejad and the way he was elected, describing the election result as “a big fraud”.

Iran Focus reported last month that Rafsanjani told a meeting of the State Expediency Council on July 16 that there were “gross irregularities” in the presidential elections.

“I have a lot to say about the way this election was conducted and ballots were swapped”, Rafsanjani told the senior ayatollahs and government officials who sit on the council. “But if I speak out about these issues, some people will make reverse propaganda and things will get worse”.

A day before the confirmation of Ahmadinejad by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on August 3, members of Rafsanjani’s entourage were reported as saying that the former president might not attend the ceremony. He did, but his despondent looks throughout the meeting caught the eyes of foreign diplomats present in the meeting.

“There is a lot of bad blood between the Supreme Leader and Rafsanjani”, an Iranian journalist who writes for a financial journal said. “Khamenei is using Ahmadinejad’s anti-corruption crusade as a means of attacking the wealthy Rafsanjani clan. Rafsanjani is trying to counter-attack by bringing the senior clerics to his side and challenging Khamenei’s religious credentials, his Achilles’ heel”.

Despite the rising tensions between the two long-time rivals, political observers were surprised by Ahmadinejad’s public snubbing of the former president.

“Iran’s clerical rulers could be at daggers drawn, but would be very careful to show a united front”, said an Asian diplomat who has been based in Tehran for several years. “Trying to decipher the relationship between the top ayatollahs could be harder than sorting out the Kremlin’s pecking order in Soviet days. So a public gesture of the kind Ahmadinejad has made is important, and he certainly did it with Khamenei’s blessing”.

Analysts believe the next showdown between Khamenei and Rafsanjani could loom in the elections for the next Assembly of Experts, a body of Islamic clerics who designate the Supreme Leader and maintain a nominal check on his behaviour. The election should take place in 2006, but a spokesman for the hard-line Guardian Council said last month that it could be postponed for two years. Rafsanjani is the assembly’s vice-president.

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