We now know who wears the pants in Iran. While Americans tend to think of President Ahmadinejad as a personal tyrant on a par, depending on your perspective or biases, with Putin of Russia or the late Chavez of Venezuela, he is currently a lame duck by virtue of term limits. But while Putin, faced with a similar situation, could select someone reliable to hold his place until he was eligible to run again, and Chavez, dying, could simply designate a successor, Ahmadinejad is, for the moment, SOL. He has a successor in mind and made a show of escorting this person as he submitted his application to run for president, but in the Islamic Republic it's one thing to declare your candidacy and another to be allowed to run. There, your eligibility is determined, supposedly on objective grounds, by the Guardian Council, which takes its marching orders from the "Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Khamenei. Under Iran's vilayat-e faqih principle, the "faqih," the preeminent ayatollah, acts like a combination pope and supreme court. It was one thing for Ahmadinejad to be Khamenei's protege for a time, and another for him to think he could promote his own protege as his successor. This was proven when the Guardian Council rejected the candidacy of Ahmadinejad's protege, a controversial figure whom even the ayatollahs of Iran regard as a religious extremist. As is often the case with puritan religious movements, you ask for trouble when you claim a personal relationship, as E. R. Masahei's sect supposedly does, with divinity -- in this case with the Mahdi, the hidden imam many Shiites expect to return some day and reclaim his rightful rulership. Since the vilayat-e-faqih principle invests the faqih with authority in the Mahdi's absence, you can see how people who claim a direct line to the Mahdi could cause problems. Religious quibbles aside, this may simply be a matter of Khamenei and the Guardian Council wishing to prevent any personal or partisan faction from rivaling the clergy for paramount leadership.
The Iranian presidential election will be contested among eight candidates approved by the Guardian Council, though Ahmadinejad intends to continue pressing for his man's inclusion. Western accounts dismiss the eight finalists as interchangeable loyalists to Khamenei, but given Iran's social and economic divisions the candidates, if any really have personal ambitions, will find ways soon enough to differentiate themselves. It may still be a sham election if the idea of anyone exercising veto power over anyone's candidacy delegitimizes the affair in your eyes; perhaps you prefer the informal system of exclusion that prevails in the U.S., where the media simply chooses to ignore most candidates and the electorate follows their lead. You can also keep saying Iran is a dictatorship, assuming Khamenei to be the dictator. But if your view had been that you could dismiss Ahmadinejad's views on global politics simply because he was a dictator, you should review that assumption as he prepares to leave the world stage in obedience to his nation's law.