TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — For eight years, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has played the role of global provocateur-in-chief: questioning the Holocaust, saying Israel should be erased from the map and painting U.N. resolutions as worthless. His provocative style grated inside Iran, as well – angering the country’s supreme leader to the point of warning the presidency could be abolished.


Now, a race is beginning to choose his successor and it looks like an anti-Ahmadinejad referendum is shaping up. Candidate registration starts Tuesday for the June 14 vote.


Comments from the presumed front-runners, such as former nuclear negotiator Hasad Rohani, lean toward less bombast and more toward diplomacy. They are apparently backed by a leadership that wants to rehabilitate Iran’s renegade image and possibly stabilize relations with the West.


The result however may be more a new tone rather than sweeping policy change. Under Iran’s theocratic system, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wields supreme power, making final decisions on nuclear and military questions. However, the president acts as the public face of the country, traveling the world. A new president might embark on an international image makeover and open the door to less antagonistic relations with Iran’s Arab neighbors and the West.


Next Iran president likely to be ‘gentler’