Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who registered on Saturday for next month’s presidential election, is disliked among regime hardliners for criticising the crackdown that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.
This pragmatic moderate, who in 2011 lost the post of head of the Assembly of Experts that supervises the activities of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never hidden his intense opposition to Ahmadinejad who beat him in the 2005 presidential election.
His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, has spent several months in prison for “acting against national security”, and his son Mehdi Hashemi also has a court case pending against him.
After publicly expressing doubts about standing in the 2013 race and questioning the fairness of the process that saw Ahmadinejad re-elected in June 2009, he repeatedly criticised the repression that followed, saying it undermined part of the population’s trust in the regime.
Such comments and his discreet support for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who became a leading figure of the opposition, have been one of the main reasons why Rafsanjani is disliked by regime hardliners.
He has been indirectly criticised by Khamenei, and has come under attack by ultra-conservatives in the regime, forcing him to adopt a low profile and say the country should stand behind the supreme leader.
Rafsanjani — president from 1989 to 1997 — is considered to favour rapprochement with the West.
He played an important role in the election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami, who succeeded him to the presidency (1997-2005).
Khatami has repeatedly said in recent days that he favours Rafsanjani’s candidacy which should garner the support of moderate leaders and reformist figures.
Rafsanjani was born on August 25, 1934 in the village of Nough south of Iran into a wealthy family.
He studied theology in the holy city of Qom before entering politics in 1963 after the shah’s police arrested the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
A confidant of Khomeini, Rafsanjani was the speaker of parliament for two consecutive terms until Khomeini’s death in 1989.
His presidency, a breathing space after the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, was marked by reconstruction, cautious reform and the repair of Iran’s relations with its Arab neighbours.
But it was also marred by human rights violations, rampant inflation and difficult relations with Europe, not least with Britain after the “death sentence” or fatwa handed down to writer Salman Rushdie by Khomeini.
Rafsanjani now hopes to take advantage of Iran’s current economic crisis and its isolation on the international scene to harvest the votes of moderates and reformists.
He is currently head of the Expediency Council, the highest political arbitration body, whose members are appointed by Khamenei.