He served as President of Iran from 1989 to 1997. He later ran again for a third term in office, losing on the second ballot to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election. Rafsanjani is currently the Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, that resolves legislative issues between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians.
Rafsanjani is heavily associated with the Iranian business class and like his constituency he is hostile to Ahmandinejad and the more ideological tendency in the Islamic Republic. Rafsanjani is best described as a pragmatic conservative, who supports a centrist position domestically and a moderate position internationally, seeking to avoid conflict with the United States.
In 1948, when Rafsanjani was fourteen years old, his parents sent him to the Shia "holy city" of Qom to enter seminary life. It was there that he began attending classes taught by Ruhollah Khomeini, under whom Rafsanjani studied Islamic law, ethics, and science. From this time forward, Rafsanjani became dedicated to Khomeini's cause, whose aim was to establish a constitutional theocracy, and soon became a major figure in his circle.
Prior to the Iranian Revolution, Rafsanjani had been jailed five times over a period of fifteen years from 1964 to 1979 for subversive activities against the Imperial government.
He was one of the main figures in the Iran contra scandal but Khomeini issued a command banning any investigation about him .
Rafsanjani was a founding member of the Islamic Republic Party, established soon after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The party advocated the establishment of a theocratic Islamic state, in contrast to the secularism of the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
Rafsanjani advocated a free market economy. With the state's coffers full, Rafsanjani pursued an economic liberalisation policy. Rafsanjani's support for a deal with America over Iran's nuclear programme and his free-market economic policies contrasted with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies, who advocate showing the West no quarter while pursuing a course of budget-busting state handouts in the face of repeated warnings of future economic problems.
He urged universities to cooperate with industries. Turning to the quick pace of developments in today's world, he said that with "the world constantly changing, we should adjust ourselves to the conditions of our lifetime and make decisions according to present circumstances.
Among the projects he initiated are Azad University.
During his administration inflation hit a staggering record high of 49%.
He condemned both the United States and Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. After the war he strove to renew close ties with the West, although he refused to lift Khomeini's fatwa against the British author Salman Rushdie.
Former Iranian president Rafsanjani has said that Iran is ready to assist Iraq "expecting nothing in return". On the other hand, he has said that "peace and stability" is a function of the "evacuation of the occupiers.
Rafsanjani voiced support to Prince Abdullah's peace initiative and to "everything the Palestinians agree to". He was also clear that Iran's international interests must take precedence over those of Iranian allies in Syria and Lebanon.
In 2000, in the first election after the end of his presidency, Rafsanjani ran again for Parliament but was not among the 30 representatives of Tehran elected, as announced by the Iranian Ministry of the Interior. The Council of Guardians then ruled numerous ballots void and were able to get him elected as the 30th representative. Rafsanjani thus became a Member of Parliament once more, but resigned before being sworn in as an MP. He explained that he felt he was "able to serve the people better in other posts".
In December 2006, Rafsanjani was elected to the Assembly of Experts representing Tehran with more than 1.5 million votes, which was more than any other candidate. Ahmadinejad opponents won majority of local election seats.
After his loss at the presidential elections in 2005, a growing tension between him and President Ahmadinejad arose. Rafsanjani has criticized President Ahmadinejad's administration several times for conducting a purge of government officials , slow move towards privatization and recently hostile foreign policy in particular the atomic energy policy . In return Ahmadinejad has fought back that Rafsanjani failed to differentiate privatization with the corrupt takeover of government-owned companies and of foreign policies which led to sanctions against Iran in 1995 and 1996.. He also implicitly denounced Rafsanjani and his followers by calling those who criticize his nuclear program as "traitors" .
On 25 October 2006, a team of Argentine prosecutors formally charged Iran and Shi'a militia Hezbollah with the 1994 AMIA Bombing in Buenos Aires, accusing the Iranian authorities of directing Hezbollah to carry out that attack and calling for the arrest of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven others. This incident has put Ahmadinejad's government in the awkward position of defending Rafsanjani, whom they oppose for corruption and being pro-Western. Therefore, this event was seen as a positive development for Rafsanjani during his successful campaign for election as a member of the Assembly of Experts in December 2006.
From a marriage to Effat Mar'ashi in 1958, Rafsanjani has three sons: Mohsen, Mehdi, and Yasser, as well as two daughters, Fatemeh and Faezeh. Only Faezeh Hashemi chose a political life, which led to her becoming a Majlis representative and then the publisher of the newspaper Zan.
Many believe the Rafsanjani family to be the richest man in Iran due to his deep involvement in various Iranian industries, including the oil industry, as well as his ownership of many properties throughout the country. There have also been allegations that some of his wealth has also come from arms deals made after the Revolution.
Rafsanjani has authored a few books, one of the most important being a book on Amir Kabir titled Amir Kabir; the Hero of Fighting against Imperialism. He is also gradually publishing his multi-volume memoir titled Towards Destiny. The seventh volume of his memoirs, in which he writes that Ayatollah Khomeini had approved the proposal to omit the rallying cry "Death to America," was banned and collected from bookstores a few days after its publication.
In 1997, his son Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of state-owned Gaz Iran Company, has reportedly received a €60,000,000 ($80,000,000) bribe from Total oil company, in order for Total to get a favorable contract in PSEEZ gas fields.
The bribery which has recently come to public attention, has been denied by Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani , and he has threatened the newspapers that he will legally prosecute those which publish this incident. The CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is currently under investigation in France with regards to this incident but Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani is living in Iran due his father's power in this country.
Forbes magazine at one time listed Rafsanjani in their list of richest people in the world and has written that as the real power behind the Iranian government, he "has more or less run the Islamic Republic for the past 24 years." His wealth has earned him the infamous nickname of Akbar Shah in Iran.