TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday stunned the country by unexpectedly filing to run in the May presidential election, contradicting a recommendation from Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei to stay out of the race.
Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure.
Two of his former vice presidents have been jailed for corruption since he left office. Iran's economy suffered under heavy sanctions during his administration.
In September, Ayatollah Khamenei recommended an unnamed candidate not to seek office as it would bring about a "polarized situation" that would be "harmful for the county."
Ahmadinejad described comments by the Leader suggesting he not run as "just advice" in a news conference shortly after submitting his registration.
He said his decision to run was intended to help former Vice President Hamid Baqaei, a close confidant. Baqaei, who was imprisoned for seven months after he left office, registered alongside Ahmadinejad on Wednesday. So did Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, another of the former president's close allies.
Ahmadinejad said last week he had no plans to stand in the election. Speaking at the ministry, he played down his chances of winning, insisting that his move was only to show support for his former deputy.
"The Supreme Leader requested that I don’t stand and I had accepted,” Ahmadinejad told reporters. "It was advice. He said that he won’t say stand or don’t stand. My registration here is for the support of my dear brother Mr. Baqaei.”
More than 120 prospective candidates submitted their names as candidates on the first day of registration Tuesday, including six women and seven clerics. Registration remains open until Saturday.
Under Iran's electoral system, all applicants must be vetted by the Guardian Council, a body that will announce a final list of candidates by April 27.
The May 19 election is seen by many in Iran as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement and other efforts to improve the country's sanctions-hobbled economy. Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
The benefits have yet to trickle down to the average Iranian, however, fueling some discontent.
President Hassan Rouhani, who succeeded Ahmadinejad in 2013 is expected to stand for reelection. His main challenger is Principlist cleric Ebrahim Raisi whose surprise announcement to run last week jolted a race previously seen as an easy contest for the president.
Senior Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi on Tuesday stressed the need for all the people of the country to participate in the upcoming presidential election.
"I would invite all the dear people of the Islamic Iran” to massively take part in the upcoming polls, said Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi who is a source of religious following.
The cleric further called on the people to vote for a candidate whose religious qualifications have been proved to them.