In a surprise move, Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad filed to run in the country's May presidential election, contradicting a recommendation from the supreme leader to stay out of the race.
Ahmadinejad had previously said he would not stand after being advised not to by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying he would instead support his former deputy Hamid Baghaie who also registered on Wednesday. He told reporters he remained committed to his "moral promise" to Khamenei of not running for the May 19 election. Khamenei's "advice was not a ban," he said at the interior ministry where registration was taking place.
Baghaei registered alongside Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, as did Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, another of the former president's close allies.
More than 120 prospective candidates submitted their names as candidates on the first day of registration Tuesday, including six women and seven clerics. Registration remains open until Saturday.
Under Iran's electoral system, all applicants must be vetted by the Guardian Council, a clerical body that will announce a final list of candidates by April 27. The council normally does not approve dissidents or women for the formal candidate list.
The May 19 election is seen by many in Iran as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and its ability to improve the country's sanctions-hobbled economy. Under that deal, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure, even among fellow hard-liners.
Two of his former vice presidents have been jailed for corruption since he left office. Iran's economy suffered under heavy international sanctions during his administration because of Western suspicions that Tehran was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 sparked massive protests and a sweeping crackdown in which thousands of people were detained and dozens were killed.
Internationally, Ahmadinejad is more known for repeatedly questioning the scale of the Holocaust, predicting Israel's demise and expanding Iran's contested nuclear program.
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