DUBAI Veteran Iranian politician Mohsen Rezaie, who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a disputed 2009 presidential poll that sparked protests, became the first person to declare his candidacy for next year, Iran's ILNA news agency reported on Sunday.�
Rezaie initially filed formal complaints over the official results of the 2009 vote, but later withdrew them. At the time, he criticised the authorities for their handling of the election and the demonstrations that followed it, saying that the Islamic Republic could face collapse unless it embraced change.
"My participation in the upcoming presidential election of the Republic is certain. I'm in it to win it," Rezaie, a former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, was quoted by ILNA as saying at a meeting in the capital Tehran.
Rezaie, who finished third in the 2009 vote, is also the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, a powerful body which advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad after his 2009 re-election, which sparked the worst unrest in Iran's history, but the president - now serving his final term - has since fallen out of favour with the country's top authority by making his own policy decisions.
Critics homed in on his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, accusing him of leading a "deviant current" bent on undermining the political role of the clergy.
Ahmadinejad's rivals feared he was lining Mashaei up to be the next president. Influential parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a more moderate conservative and fierce critic of Ahmadinejad, is also expected to run, as is the mayor of Tehran, Mohammed Baqer-Qalibaf.
The spat has set the stage for a tough finale to Ahmadinejad's presidency, amid tightening international sanctions imposed by Western powers trying to curb Iran's nuclear activities.
They suspect Iran is trying to produce atomic bombs. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely for generation of power.
(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Ralph Gowling)