On 24 June 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pronounced mah-MOOD ah-mah-dih-nee-ZHAHD) was elected as Iran's president. Ahmadinejad swept to the presidential post with a stunning 17,046,441 votes out of a total of 27,536,069 votes cast in the runoff election. His rival and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gained only 9,841,346. A few days before the vote, Rafsanjani said that the race was "very close," but he believed he was "slightly ahead" of Ahmadinejad. When he took office in August 2005, Ahmadinejad became the first non-cleric president to lead Iran in 24 years.
Ahmadinejad represented a younger generation whose formative experience was the Iran-Iraq War. Even in the days when Ahmadinejad was in the IRGC, he was pressing the issue of what should be done about the coming of the 12th Imam. The Iran-Iraq War began in September 1980 when Iraqi army divisions entered Iran in a three front surprise attack. The war, which lasted 8 years, resulted in an estimated 300,000 Iranian deaths out of a population of about 60 million by the end of the war. A UN Resolution (Security Council Resolution 598) adopted in August 1988 only imposed a ceasefire. No relevant issues were solved. Reports of American involvement with Iraq during the war fueled Iranian anger towards the United States, despite equal reports of American support for Iran via Israel.
During the campaign, Ahmadinejad's backers had portrayed Rafsanjani as the Iranian equivalent of a political hack. The commonly heard sentiment about Ahmadinejad was that he remained a simple man, a backhanded slap at Rafsanjani, who was reported to have had amassed great personal wealth (a claim Rafsanjani denied). Ahmadinejad's populist platform, which included providing a monthly stipend to citizens, won votes from people concerned about economic issues such as unemployment. Ahmadinejad's main campaign advertisement was a film that showed him praying and addressing war veterans in military fatigues.
Iran's ninth presidential election took place on 17 June 2005, and parliamentary by-elections will take place on the same date. The divisions within Iran's political right wing were amply demonstrated by the fact that five individuals were vying to be the conservatives' candidate in the 2005 presidential election. The five main candidates were Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Larijani, Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli, and the Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Akbar Velayati. Rezai's managerial experience at the national level was limited, although he did command the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The Proud Iran Party (Hizb-i Iran-i Sarfaraz) backed Expediency Council Chairman and former president Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Official figures showed that 46,786,418 people were eligible to vote for in 9th presidential elections. Among seven challengers for the presidential race, in addition to Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, were former Majlis speaker Mehdi Karroubi, former minister of higher education Mostafa Moin, former Police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former head of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Broadcasting (IRIB) Ali Larijani and Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Presidential hopeful Mohsen Rezaie announced his withdrawal from the race in his letter to the Interior Ministry on 16 June 2005. The main reform candidate, Mostafa Moin, came in fifth in the seven-man race. Hundreds of other potential candidates, mainly reformists and women, had previously been disqualified by the Guardian Council, an unelected body of hard-line mullahs.
Ahmadinejad rose from relative political obscurity to go head-to-head with Iran's perhaps second most prominent national figure, former president Rafsanjani. In style and substance, the two men could not be more different. At 70, Rafsanjani was an Islamic cleric, a political veteran, and what might be characterized as moderately progressive (on the Iranian political spectrum). In contrast, Ahmadinejad was 31-years younger, a former Revolutionary Guard, a novice on the national stage, and a hardline conservative much feared by the reformist movement.
Some outside observers had great difficult understanding Ahmadinejad's popularity across the country. They were not able to comprehend his ability to out-poll better-known figures, such as former speaker of parliament Mehdi Karrubi or former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. The other candidates had been nationally visible for years, and had campaigned throughout the country. Ahmadinejad only became nationally visible after he became Tehran's mayor. He did not campaign as extensively as his rivals. Some speculated that electoral interference by the Basij and the Guardians Council was the only explaination of this otherwise inexplicable rise to power. Reports suggested there was evidence of vote rigging by Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his supporters. These claims were publically voiced by Rafsanjani and his supporters after the results of the election were announced.
The Basij Forces, or Mobilization Resistance Force, a volunteer paramilitary militia under the Revolutionary Guards, was called upon to vote for Ahmadinejad and get others to do so. Since its creation Iranian authorities suggested that on mobilization its active numbers could total 1 million individuals or more. Reformists charged that the Basij violated prohibitions against military involvement in politics by mobilizing votes for Ahmadinejad. Although the military was supposed to steer clear of politics in Iran (as seen with the withdrawl of Mohsen Rezaie), it had always played some role. However, it had never been as prominent as it was during the 2005 election.
President Bush stated that presidential elections in Iran were designed to keep power in the hands of rulers who suppress liberty at home and spread terror abroad. According to a US State Department official, the Iranian election fell very, very short of minimum democratic standards.
Although initially popular, Ahmadinejad's administration suffered a blow in the 2006 elections, when a political block, led by an alliance between Rafsanjani and his allies with reformists made large gains in the Majlis. Some speculation had even suggested that there was a growing rift between Supreme Leader Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, whom he had publically endorsed after the election. By July 2008 Iran's foreign policy rhetoric appeared to take a more reserved approach than previously seen under Ahmadinejad, further suggesting some behind the scenes movement in the political establishment.