Iran’s Guardian Council removed two key candidates from the race, giving conservative candidates the edge in the upcoming June 15 presidential election .
Two key presidential candidates in Iran’s presidential election – Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei  – were disqualified by the Guardian Council, signaling Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s reluctance to see the two men in the race.
Rafsanjani, a former president and the country’s richest man, is said to have grudgingly thrown his name into the hat at the urging of reformists like former president Mohammad Khatami, who believed that he had the best chance of winning.
Mashaei, who is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, entered the race with the president’s unswerving support despite strong indications that he would not make it past the Guardian Council’s vetting process, particularly after Khamenei had refused his appointment to the post of first vice president.
While Rafsanjani appears to have resigned himself to the Guardian Council’s decision, declaring that he does not plan to appeal, Mashaei’s camp will likely pursue the issue.Sources from the Rafsanjani camp say that in addition to Khatami, the bazaar’s powerful merchants had urged the former president to consider entering the race for fear that Mashaei might win.
While Rafsanjani appears to have resigned himself to the Guardian Council’s decision, declaring that he does not plan to appeal, Mashaei’s camp will likely pursue the issue with the supreme leader, according to statements made by Ahmadinejad at a recent cabinet meeting.
Sources following the proceedings of the Guardian Council report that Rafsanjani was disqualified for two reasons. The first has to do with his health, whereby the former president himself openly admitted several months ago that he is not in a condition to carry out presidential duties.
The second is related to his relationship to the so-called Green Movement that sprung up around the controversial 2009 presidential election, which Khamenei and the conservatives view as having overstepped the bounds of the core principles of the Islamic Republic. Rafsanjani has done little over the past four years to convince them otherwise.
The removal of Rafsanjani  and Mashaei has left the field open for the conservatives, who can now choose among several strong candidates, the most favored among them being Mayor of Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili.
Among those opposing the conservative camp is centrist and longtime politician Hassan Rouhani. Although he is close to Rafsanjani, Rouhani is not expected to carry the same weight, as he will likely lose reformist voters to either a boycott – which some reformists factions have called for – or to the remaining reformist candidates, who have little or no chance of winning.
The one remaining unknown factor is where will Ahmadinejad’s supporters go? Some suggest that they will likely vote for Jalili as he represents the government in the current line-up. As for voter turnout in these difficult circumstances, participation levels are expected to range from 60 to 70 percent.