Ahmadinejad ally, rival run to follow him

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

TEHRAN — A pair of powerful and divisive figures registered Saturday to run in Iran's presidential election, jolting the political landscape ahead of next month's vote to pick a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who still wields enormous influence, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close confidant of Ahmadinejad, submitted their official paperwork just before Saturday's deadline. Each has a good shot at winning the vote, raising a tough challenge to conservative candidates loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani stands as the main hope for reformists, who were crushed and left leaderless when the government cracked down on street protesters disputing Ahmadinejad's 2009 victory. A win by Rasfanjani, a “pragmatic conservative” who has been a dominant figure in Iranian politics since the 1980s, could open the way for an easing of tensions with the outside world and distance Iran from Ahmadinejad's bombastic style and the hardline policies of the Islamic Republic's ultraconservatives.

Mashaei, on the other hand, is for the status quo.

“I'll consider it my obligation to continue the path of Ahmadinejad's government,” Mashaei told reporters after registering Saturday.

Mashaei has long been Ahmadinejad's close confidant, and the president's son is married to Mashaei's daughter. State TV showed a smiling Ahmadinejad accompanying Mashaei as he submitted his papers Saturday.

All candidates must be approved by the election overseers, known as the Guardian Council, to make it onto the ballot, and Mashaei's role in a messy power struggle in recent years between Ahmadinejad and the Islamic establishment could lead to him being knocked out the race.

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