- - Sunday, May 26, 2013

TEHRAN — I was sitting with a group of friends Tuesday night, playing cards and talking nonsense, when Sadegh looked up from his laptop, wild-eyed.

“Hashemi has been disqualified,” he said, using the common name for Ayatollah Rafsanjani.

We looked at each other in a sort of giddy shock.

“Who says?”

“No way!”

“I can’t believe it.”

“They have some gall.”

The Guardian Council, which is responsible for vetting presidential candidates, was not supposed to announce its final list of approved hopefuls — from a pool of nearly 700 — until the next day.

But Mehr News, one of the country’s many semi-official news outlets, managed to leak the list of eight finalists a day early.

And Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the two surviving founding members of the Islamic republic, a pillar of the Islamic Revolution, was not among them.

Ever since the chairman of the Expediency Council and former two-term president of Iran declared his candidacy in dramatic, last-minute fashion May 11, Iranian and foreign media had been buzzing about what form a Rafsanjani campaign would take and whether he could rescue the country’s crippled economy if elected.

Many commentators had asserted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allowing Ayatollah Rafsanjani to run would be a stroke of genius.

First, it would draw otherwise apathetic, reform-minded Iranians to the polls, prompting the large turnout that the regime relies on for legitimacy.

And second, while Ayatollah Rafsanjani is associated with the opposition’s failed “Green Movement” of 2009 and the protests that followed that presidential election — widely dismissed as fraudulent — he has proved in the ensuing years not to be especially insistent in his criticism.

In other words, he is seen as someone whom the supreme leader might feel he could control.

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