Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Reuters

An Iranian panel charged with vetting presidential candidates on Thursday disqualified former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running in next month's presidential election, The Associated Press reported, citing state television.

At the same time, the panel approved incumbent president Hassan Rouhani and five challengers, according to the report.

The decision by the Guardian Council means that Rouhani, who is considered “moderate” in Iran, will face off against a field that includes two prominent hard-liners: Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

Khamenei last September ordered Ahmadinejad not to run in the elections, implying that an Ahmadinejad candidacy would have a polarizing effect that would "damage the country".

Despite confirming he would not run following Khamenei’s warning, Ahmadinejad nevertheless registered last week.

The Guardian Council, a cleric-dominated body, controls elections and must approve all laws passed by parliament. It has never allowed a woman to run for president and routinely rejects political dissidents and others calling for dramatic reform, noted AP.

Other presidential candidates who made the cut, according to an Interior Ministry statement carried by state TV, include moderate Senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former conservative culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim, and former pro-reform vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba.

Ahmadinejad is notorious for his inflammatory rhetoric, particularly over Iran's nuclear program and his hostility towards Israel.

Prior to leaving the presidency, Ahmadinejad said he prided himself the most on his denial of the Holocaust.

More than 1,600 people registered to run for the May 19 election.

Under Iran's clerically overseen system, the president is subordinate to Khamenei, who is Iran's top decision-maker and has the final say on all matters of state. Khamenei appoints half the Guardian Council's members.