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Despite the heavy attention on Iran’s external struggles — including the future of critical ally Bashar Assad in Syria — the coming year could be a highly inward-looking one for Iran. Ahmadinejad will be hunting for some type of post-presidency political role. Meanwhile, the ruling system will be vetting candidates for the next presidential election — with all expectations that only reliable and pliable figures will make the cut.
The theocracy holds all the cards. It clears all candidates for the presidency and parliament. The message these days: Reformists, liberals and any others likely to challenge the ruling system are out.
Front-runners at the moment include Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and ex-Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei. All would likely strike a more milder tone on the world stage than Ahmadinejad.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born political analyst based in Israel, said Khamenei feels particularly burned by Ahmadinejad after coddling him as the "son he always wanted." And the Revolutionary Guard "will try their level best to convince Khamenei to choose a yes man," said Javedanfar, co-author of the Ahmadinejad biography "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran."
The political freeze-out of Ahmadinejad, however, could free him up for greater grandstanding. Some believe he could go further with his challenges to the ruling system as a way to cater to his remaining supporters.
Still, Ahmadinejad is leaving people guessing. On his website last week, he wrote about how his concept of "justice" means not only facing enemies but also battling a "friend, comrade, party-mate and colleague."
It’s unclear whether this was a warning shot of a new battle with the ruling clerics or a lament about how former conservative allies have abandoned him.
Of the five presidents since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, only two have moved onto prominent roles: Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who also is a foe of Ahmadinejad dating back to the 2005 presidential election race. Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, has been neutralized along with his reformist allies.
"Ahmadinejad does not want to fade away," said Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University political science professor. "Considering his personality and character, it will be hard for him to leave the stage."
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