January 28, 2009 / 4:06 PM / 10 years ago

Iran's Ahmadinejad to seek second 4-year term

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will run for president again in June, an aide told Reuters on Wednesday, in the first official confirmation he would seek a second four-year term.

Ahmadinejad’s rivals on June 12 could include moderate politician Mohammad Khatami, whose presidency from 1997 to 2005 was marked by improving ties with the West that have since deteriorated. Khatami has said he is considering whether to run.

“Naturally (Ahmadinejad) will become a candidate for the next election and will put himself before the people’s vote. Of course he is doing this to complete his duties,” Aliakbar Javanfekr, a close aide to the president, told Reuters.

Ahmadinejad has been criticized by opponents and some media for economic policies they blame for soaring inflation. Pro-reform politicians in particular have accused the president for further isolating Iran with fiery speeches against the West.

Iran is embroiled in a row with the West, which says Tehran wants nuclear weapons. Iran denies this but has had three rounds of U.N. sanctions slapped on it for not halting its atomic work.

But analysts say Ahmadinejad’s prospects may largely depend on retaining the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top authority who has often publicly praised the president and whose views influence millions of loyalists.

“Naturally the campaign will be different from the previous one. In the first period, Ahmadinejad had to present himself to the people,” Javanfekr said, adding that the focus in the coming campaign would be to outline the president’s achievements.

Ahmadinejad was the surprise victor in the 2005 presidential race after a second-round vote against influential cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president for much of the 1990s.

He won by appealing to many of the Islamic Republic’s devout poor who had felt neglected by past governments. Ahmadinejad vowed a return to revolutionary values, a crackdown on corruption and a fairer distribution of Iran’s oil wealth.

‘OUR PATH IS CORRECT’

Critics say Ahmadinejad’s spending policies have driven up inflation while squandering windfall earnings when crude prices hit record levels in July of $147 a barrel instead of saving more for times like now when prices have tumbled to around $40.

Javanfekr dismissed such criticism, blaming problems such as drought in Iran and issues like high world commodity prices for inflation. He said prices, including for property, were falling and said the government had inflation under control.

“Therefore the policies of the government are in line with helping people and we are not worried about the picture drawn by the critics of the government and some newspapers about the economy. We believe that our path is correct,” he said.

Several influential figures have in recent weeks stated their public support for Ahmadinejad, including Iran’s top military commander, Hassan Firouzabadi, whose comments reported by newspapers were then criticized by a rival in the June race.

“Today, now that you have taken leadership of those military men interfering in elections, where should I go to lodge a complaint against you?” said Mehdi Karoubi, a pro-reform politician who ran in 2005 and says he will run again.

Karoubi was quoted by Wednesday’s daily Etemad-e Melli.

Javanfekr played down the row about Firouzabadi, saying the military commander was exercising his right to free speech.

“In our country, ... everyone can express his or her view. Interference means they prevent somebody from running,” he said. “Therefore, what Mr Firouzabadi said doesn’t mean interference in political issues. It was his view.”

Presidents can run for two consecutive four-year terms before they must step down. They can run again at a later date.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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