There are indications that Iran's firebrand former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be willing and ready to run for president in 2021, less than a year from now. But are Iran and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also ready for that?
When Ahmadinejad started a new round of provincial visits during the year preceding the February 2020 parliamentary elections, many Iranian analysts from both sides of the country's political spectrum speculated that he might be willing to become a member of parliament.
While, Ahmadinejad was being welcomed by spontaneous crowds during some of his visits, this hypothesis lingered around for up to three months before the election. But the analysts became convinced that he was lobbying for his previous aides and provincial governors, not for himself. However, Ahmadinejad's office at the time denied his involvement in election campaigns, probably for legal reasons, as early campaigning is illegal.
Many of Ahmadinejad's aides and supporters happen to be in the new parliament (Majles) as representatives from various cities and two of them Ali Nikzad and Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi are the vice-speakers of the legislature.
Some analysts including reformist Sadeq Zibakalam and conservative Amir Mohebbian have said at different times that Ahmadinejad can always win at least more than 10 million votes in any presidential election.
Now his former appointees and many others supporting his views have a significant number of seats in parliament.
In the meantime, an increasing number of Iran watchers came to the conclusion that the separation between Ahmadinejad and some of his supporters, including the ultraconservative Paydari Front in 2011, was a tactical move to keep them safe vis-à-vis Khamenei's hardline supporters after they fell out with Ahmadinejad and branded him as "deviant" following a brief rift between him and Khamenei.
The combined weight of Paydari and those who entered the Majles as Ahmadinejad's aides now forms a solid majority at the Parliament that chose not to compete with -now- Majles Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf at the last moment probably against some concessions still not clearly spelled out.
At least 50 of Ahmadinejad's aides and former managers are now members of parliament. Observers say that some of the younger members who ae not necessarily known to support Ahmadinejad also do sympathize with him.
Pro-reform news website Fararu in Tehran in a June 7 story once again speculated about Ahmadinejad's political ambitions, noting that the biggest barrier between Ahmadinejad and another round of Iranian presidency is the Guardian Council that may not endorse his qualification.
The council disqualified Ahmadinejad in the 2017 election, probably due to their insider's knowledge about Khamenei's views. Fararu says this can happen once again, and if it happens, that would be a political disappointment even harder to stomach than back then.
Fararu quoted Zibakalam as saying that the former president's aides at the Majles may hold negotiations with the Guardian Council to make sure Ahmadinejad gets through the vetting in 2021. He says Ahmadinejad will certainly declare his candidacy but the Guardian Council's response is not always predictable.
Mohammad Hossein Qadiri Abyaneh, a conservative figure however, believes that Ahmadinejad will use his influence in the provinces to exert pressure on the Guardian Council to endorse his qualification.
This comes while Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a close aide of Ahmadinejad, denies the former president's willingness to run once again, and Abbas Amirifar, another political figure close to Ahmadinejad says Ahmadinejad might groom one of his aides such as former Guardian Council Spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham as a candidate.
The Rouhani administration's failures despite continued criticism of Ahmadinejad has made some of the latter's achievements such as his decade-old idea of cash subsidies to people to shine. Rouhani has been even using such ideas with a heavy heart without paying any tribute to Ahmadinejad for initiating them. Meanwhile, big corruption cases in Iran under Rouhani has made Ahmadinejad look like a saint to some Iranians.
Currently, the COVID-19 epidemic has limited Ahmadinejad's political activities. Nevertheless, he has been seen signing letters and giving autographs to his fans.
Ahmadinejad, like any populist can also rely on social media to galvanize support and he is no stranger to this commonly used medium in Iran.