TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A protege of Iran's outgoing president said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies will make a comeback as a future force in Iranian politics, newspapers reported on Tuesday.
The papers, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, quoted Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as saying Ahmadinejad and his loyalists will "return" to power someday.
Ahmadinejad is to be replaced by president-elect Hasan Rouhani, who won nearly 51 percent of the votes in the June 15 balloting.
Under Iran's constitution, Ahmadinejad was banned from running for a third consecutive term but he could run in some future presidential election.
His protege, Mashaei, was disqualified from running by the country's election overseers, the clerics of the Guardian Council who vet both nominees and the election results.
Mashaei has been disliked by hard-liners because of his alleged role in a bitter feud between Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics that preceded the election. The clerics denounced Mashaei as part of a "deviant current" that seeks to undermine the country's Islamic system.
Ahmadinejad appealed three times to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei but the efforts failed to restore Mashaei as a candidate, according to Abdollah Haji Sadeghi, a Khamenei representative in the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
In May, Ahmadinejad argued that the decision by the Guardian Council to disqualify Mashaei from the presidential race was an act of "oppression."
Since his landslide win, Rouhani has vowed to follow a "path of moderation" and pursue greater openness over Iran's nuclear program.
He is set to take office in August and although Iran's president cannot set policy on major decisions such as the nuclear program, he can influence views by the ruling clerics.
Though sidelined since Rouhani's election, Ahmadinejad still enjoys a significant political base, with grateful and loyal supporters, especially in hardscrabble and poorer places across Iran.