Hamid Baghaei, a vice president to former controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has declared his candidacy for the May 2017 elections. At the time of his announcement, Baghaei stated that his intention is to unseat Rouhani. The incumbent Iranian president, the nominal head of the moderate forces inside the Iranian regime, has yet to declare his bid for re-election but is widely expected to do so soon. Meanwhile, on February 21, a key member of the Ahmadinejad inner circle, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, publicly came out in support for Baghaei.
Comment: Baghaei’s candidacy is a potent sign that the Ahmadinejad faction in the Islamic Republic has no intention to give up on hopes to recapture the presidency. Mashaei’s public endorsement of Baghaei is widely seen in Iran as indicating support from Ahmadinejad himself. The relationship between Ahmadinejad and Mashaei is very close and the latter often times acts as a trial balloon for the former president. This is while Ahmadinejad has said he will not himself support any candidates for the May 2017 vote. Meanwhile, Baghaei is highly likely to be barred from running for the presidency by the regime’s vetting agency that basically hand picks only candidates that are acceptable to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Baghaei was in 2015 sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement although he was behind bars for less than a year. Given this reality, the speculation in Tehran is that the key players in the Ahmadinejad faction are motivated to field Baghaei as they are fearful of becoming politically marginalized. Hence, they are publicizing the candidacy of Baghaei even though his chances to win, even if he is allowed to run by the regime, are nearly zero. But by keeping someone from his faction in the political limelight, Ahmadinejad can work toward keeping his circle of supporters together and himself shoot to return to the presidency in 2021.