Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been effectively blocked from seeking a return to office after Iran’s supreme leader decided the firebrand populist would prove too divisive in next year’s elections, state media reported Monday.

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signaled a preemptive strike against possible attempts by Ahmadinejad to build a movement to challenge the reform-minded Hassan Rouhani in the May presidential election.

Khamenei’s remarks, carried by the Islamic Republic News Agency, also suggested that Rouhani and his government still retain some support among Iran’s ruling clerics after being given the green light to negotiate last year’s nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.

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