The daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic republic, has emerged among those stunned and angered by the exclusion of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from next month’s presidential race.
Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini addressed an unprecedented letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urging him to put Rafsanjani back on the official shortlist.
In the passionate letter, sent to Khamenei on May 21 and published by the Jamaran website, she urges the supreme leader, who has the final say on all state matters, to reinstate Rafsanjani as a candidate to “prevent dictatorship” from taking grip in Iran.
“This decision will create a gulf between my father’s two friends [Rafsanjani and Khamenei],” Mostafavi writes. “It also shows disrespect to the wishes of the people on the street. This separation will cause great harm to the revolution and to the regime. As the Imam [Khomeini] always said, ‘It is best when the two of you work together.’”
Mostafavi then reminds Khamenei what her father had said about the position of the supreme leader, which, she says, is to “ensure nobody does whatever they want and to prevent dictatorship.”
Mostafavi adds that her wishes reflected those of “a lot of people who care about the regime and are concerned about the situation in Iran. Their hearts long to hear the echo of unity in this country.”
The best chance of recourse for candidates who are ruled out of the vote by the Guardians Council is through the supreme leader, who has the power to reinstate a candidate. The supreme leader has immense influence over the 12-member council, all of them directly or indirectly appointed by him.
But Rafsanjani’s campaign manager, Eshagh Jahangiri, was quoted on May 22 by Iran’s ISNA news agency as saying that the former president would not protest his disqualification.
WATCH: In a Flash Analysis, RFE/RL Regional Director Mardo Soghom says the exclusion of two major presidential aspirants suggests “acute fear” within Iran’s leadership:
The 78-year-old Rafsanjani was a close adviser to Khomeini and was instrumental in Khamenei’s approval as the supreme leader in 1989. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Rafsanjani was a close confidant of Khamenei. Supreme Leader Khomeini backed Rafsanjani for the presidency in 1989, a post he then held until 1997.
But the pair fell out when Rafsanjani lost to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election. The rift between the two widened after Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009, which provoked mass popular protests and a harsh government crackdown.
Rafsanjani at the time denounced the government’s crackdown and implicitly voiced support for the country’s opposition Green Movement. Khamenei rejected Rafsanjani’s comments and stood firm by Ahmadinejad and denied any claims of vote-rigging.
In the past four years, Rafsanjani has seen his influence wane. He has been banned from leading Tehran’s Friday Prayers, lost his role as the head of the influential Assembly of Experts, and been physically and verbally assaulted at public events.
Meanwhile, Rafsanjani’s daughter served a six-month sentence in connection with the chaos that ensued after the election, while his son is to stand trial in the coming weeks for his alleged role in the protests.
But Rafsanjani did manage to keep his post as head of the Expediency Council, an advisory body that mediates disputes between the parliament and the Guardians Council.
Rafsanjani’s last-minute entry had raised hope among reformers and moderates but infuriated hard-liners and loyalists to Khamenei who believed his candidacy would undermine the supreme leader’s authority.