Iran’s Ahmadinejad seeks political comeback

Few expect a rerun of Ahmadinejad’s surprise victory in the 2005 elections, which kicked off an eight-year presidency marked by confrontation with the West, incendiary rhetoric toward Israel and refusal to compromise on the disputed nuclear program. Many former allies have turned on Ahmadinejad, and two of his former vice presidents have been jailed for corruption.

But the unapologetic populist is believed to command strong support in the countryside, and could be seen by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a counterbalance to the reformers who have tried to reverse Ahmadinejad’s confrontational legacy since the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, two years ago.

At a gathering of his supporters Thursday, Ahmadinejad, 58, broke two years of silence, vowing to “redefine revolutionary ideals” laid out by the leader of Iran’s 1979 revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“God willing, victory and a very bright future awaits us. However, there will be bumps and satanic obstacles in our path,” the diminutive former leader, sporting his trademark close-cropped beard and sports coat, told some 400 supporters in Tehran. “One should not forget that the US is our enemy.”

He called on his supporters to “begin working energetically in the provinces.” He remains popular among the rural poor because of his government’s decision to provide monthly cash handouts after cutting food and energy subsidies, and because of his condemnation of capitalism and injustice. During his presidency he received thousands of letters a day from ordinary Iranians, and earlier this week people lined up outside his Tehran residence to ask for assistance, a reflection of his populist touch.

But many middle and upper class Iranians, even in small towns, blame the crippling international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program on his bombastic anti-Western rhetoric. And the current government is in the process of removing millions of wealthy citizens from the welfare rolls to ease a budget crisis caused in part by the sanctions and plunging oil prices.

“The lower classes, who are easily attracted with simple slogans, might still like Ahmadinejad’s style, even if they don’t necessarily favor him in person,” he said.

“If (the supreme leader) feels that Ahmadinejad’s running for an election can create enthusiasm and a heated competition, he will welcome it, provided that (Ahmadinejad) is not linked to the financial scandal cases.”

University professor Sadeq Zibakalam says moderates shouldn’t write off the former hard-line leader. “Don’t underestimate Ahmadinejad,” he said.

Full article: Iran’s Ahmadinejad seeks political comeback (The Times of Israel)

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