The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani come days after a constitutional watchdog disqualified him from running in the June 14 presidential election. The wording was particularly strong for Rafsanjani, considered a centrist who generally defers to the supremacy of the ruling clerics. He had previously lashed out at authorities after a crackdown on protests following the disputed 2009 elections.
Because of his stance then, Rafsanjani's 2013 candidacy had revitalized reformist hopes. Rafsanjani has not made any direct public statements since his Tuesday disqualification. The quote was not carried on his official website, and the report could not independently verified.
"I think it is not possible to run the country worse than this," he was quoted as saying. He singled out the Guardian Council, the watchdog dominated by clerical hardliners that disqualified him, for condemnation.
"Wisdom suggests letting him_Rafsanjani_run," he said, referring to himself. "You should have let people come to the ballots hopefully. They do not know what they are doing." Rafsanjani said the Council's decision helps foreign enemies of Iran. Iranian leaders are believed to seek a high turnout in elections to show that the Islamic Republic is politically strong.
The ex-president's campaign manager has said that he will not protest the decision. But in the remarks published Wednesday, Rafsanjani said he hoped the Council would reconsider. "I am still hopeful. There is a hope that they take a serious decision and give another chance to us and the people," said Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani was a main leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power. He was the closest confident of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the revolution. His rejection deals a demoralizing blow to pro-reform groups and boosts the chances of a candidate loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei winning the election.
Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late founder of the Islamic Republic who has joined the reform movement, called Rafsanjani's disqualification "unbelievable." In a letter published in several pro-reform newspapers Thursday, he said Rafsanjani had been a symbol of "hope" for the movement "and will remain so."
Earlier on Wednesday, Zahra Mostafavi, Khomeini's respected daughter, urged Khamenei to reverse the council's decision and reinstate Rafsanjani's candidacy. On the streets, many people expressed surprise over the disqualification.
"I am not sure what it means. Does it mean a founder of the system has no chance to be president in the system, anymore?" said high school teacher Rahim Piri. Another Tehran resident, auto mechanic Mahmoud Rahimi, said: "I wish Rafsanjani could run. He could bring a better economy for ordinary people."
Since Rafsanjani's disqualification, foreign currency has become more expensive and gold prices have risen five percent. Iran is under international and Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The West suspects Tehran seeks to build a weapon, a charge Iran denies.