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Will Iran’s president be barred from running for second term?

With only months left of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's first term, speculation rises about the possible disqualification of his expected bid for re-election in May.

Speculation over whether incumbent Hassan Rouhani will be barred from running for a second term in May is rising as Iran's upcoming presidential election edge closer.

On Jan. 4, Abbas-Ali Kadokhodai, the spokesperson for the conservative-dominated Guardian Council that is tasked with vetting candidates, told the hard-line Jam news site, "There is no guarantee that a president will be approved [by the Guardian Council to run] for a second term."

He added, "Legally, the Guardian Council has studied the qualifications of all incumbent presidents in all periods accurately. Now, in the past few terms, the outcome [of studying the qualification of incumbent presidents] has been positive. This has been the legal and usual procedure of the Guardian Council and will always be carried out."

Of note, a sitting president wishing to pursue a bid for re-election has so far not been disqualified, though former Presidents Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were disqualified by the Guardian Council from running respectively in the 2013 and 2001 presidential elections. However, Khatami — who was first elected in 1997 — was later cleared to run following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s order for the Guardian Council's decision to be overruled.

On Jan. 3, in response to a question about the possible disqualification of Rouhani in the upcoming presidential election, government spokesperson Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht emphatically denied such rumors. "The disqualification [of Rouhani by the Guardian Council] is void and wish-wash talk, and it is not necessary to occupy people's minds [by raising this rumor]," Nobakht said.

Sadegh Zibakalam, an outspoken professor at the University of Tehran, told Aftab newspaper Jan. 4, "It is natural for the Principlists to harbor the desire to [see] Hassan Rouhani disqualified, just like Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani]."

He said, "When Hashemi was disqualified in 2013, they [the Guardian Council] stated that 'some considerations' and 'some discretions' were the reason for his disqualification. They can also use [the same pretexts] about Rouhani."

Zibakalam continued, "Considering the disqualification of Rouhani as normal and accepting it is not the right approach, and we shouldn’t discuss an alternative to Rouhani due to the prediction and the possibility of [the issue of his disqualification], because this would mean giving complete authority and legitimacy to the wishes of some Principlists."

Moreover, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, who was government spokesman when the Reformist Khatami was president, wrote in Aftab daily Jan. 4, "Talk of the issue of disqualifying Mr. Rouhani indicates that in this political current [the Principlist camp], no figure has been found for [successfully] competing with Mr. Rouhani. Since there is no competitor, they have resorted to such low-level rumors. Is it possible to disqualify the legal president of a country, while during the qualification process … the person is still the head of the executive body of the country?"

Meanwhile, on Jan. 3, Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, a leading conservative figure who is rumored to be a presidential candidate, said, "During the past few months, there have been remarks about the disqualification of the president, but this is just for showing that the 11th [incumbent] government is victimized."

Furthermore, on Aug. 31, Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, the spokesman for the conservative Combatant Clergy Society, rejected the possibility of the barring of Rouhani's bid for re-election, saying, "There is no serious sign of the disqualification of Rouhani in the 2017 presidential elections."

However, Ali Shakouri Raad, the secretary of the Reformist Union of Islamic Iran People Party, has argued that the disqualification of Rouhani by the Guardian Council is possible, but that the supreme leader will not allow such a move to go through. Raad said, "Those who braced themselves [for the consequences of the 2013 disqualifications of the election bids] of Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and Hassan Khomeini … aren’t afraid [to disqualify Rouhani too]. But I think under such circumstances, the [supreme] leader will definitely intervene in favor of the president [Rouhani]."

Of note, against all predictions and expectations, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was disqualified from running in the February 2016 elections for the Assembly of Experts.

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