Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes a V for Victory. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Well, he’s got this going for him: He knows the job.

By Amanda Erickson

As “stunned” onlookers watched, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered to run — once again — for president. In doing so, he defied the country’s supreme leader, who told him not to compete. (“I told him he should not participate in that matter,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last year, according to his official website. It’s “not in his interest and that of the country.”)
The former president’s surprising decision to run adds even more uncertainty to the upcoming election. It’s widely seen as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for international sanctions relief. A majority of Iranians support the deal, though many say that they’re disappointed by its limited economic impact.
That agreement was negotiated and signed by the current president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate most people think will seek reelection. In 2013, Rouhani was elected in a landslide, thanks to the support of moderates and reformists. He had a background in nuclear negotiations, and swept into office preaching moderation and compromise. His priority was to end the country’s international isolation.
Rouhani has also pushed the country in a more moderate direction. He has said that he believes Iranians should have freedom to worship and he tweeted a photo of a female award-winning mathematician without her headscarf — though critics say he hasn’t made nearly enough progress. His reelection campaign revolves around this question: Should Iran continue to pursue a more international role in the world or should it remain isolated?
On that front, few politicians offer a starker contrast than Ahmadinejad. As president, he frequently attacked the West. He has called the Holocaust “a myth” and “a lie.” In 2005, he banned Western music from the radio. A year later, he blocked several major websites, including YouTube, in an effort to purge the country of Western influences.
His 2009 reelection was widely disputed, and it triggered some of the biggest protests in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Millions of people took to the streets to demand another vote. Instead, the supreme leader ruled that the result was valid; he ordered a major crackdown on dissent. Dozens of opposition activists were killed and thousands more were detained.
Publicly (and confusingly), Ahmadinejad has said that he only registered to run to support his former vice president, who’s also running for president. But he seems serious about the campaign. As the Guardian explains: “Despite Khamenei’s advice, Ahmadinejad had been building a campaign in the months leading to the official registration — visiting provinces, becoming more active online and speaking at more occasions. He recently joined Twitter.”