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Iran may avert breakdown if new president is reformist


Iran may avert breakdown if new president is reformist


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As Iran prepares for presidential elections on 14 June, analysts have been looking closely at the frontrunners in the Islamic Republic.

Most of the 686 would-be candidates to succeed outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are conservative. Thirty of them are women.

The shortlist will be decided by Iran’s Guardian Council on 23 May. In the 2009 poll, only four candidates stood in the end.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei has indicated some leniency toward reformist voices, although today much of the opposition has been silenced.

Khamenei’s role is influential but he is supposed to remain above politics. The eight years of leadership interplay with Ahmadinejad have been full of friction, sometimes leading to paralysis. The Supreme leader may try to ensure that Ahmadinejad’s right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei fails.

Nearly six months of unprecedented street clashes followed Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election. Many Iranians were discouraged by the brutality of the crackdown against their complaints that the polling was flawed and their reformist wishes had been ignored.

The hopes of many moderates are riding on Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a former president who declared his candidacy late. Reformers and some conservatives support him, worried about the direction their country is taking. Some conservatives accuse the rival Mashaei of seeking to sideline clerical power in favour of a more nationalistic doctrine.

A former parliamentary speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel may have above average chances. He is one of the Supreme leader’s advisers. So is candidate Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as foreign minister through the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and afterwards. Also close to Khamenei is Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, a former Revolutionary Guards air force commander and national police chief.

Saeed Jalili may be another front-runner, a well-known face as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, National Security Council secretary and a former deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs.

Ahmadinejad’s successor will inherit the management of double-digit inflation and a failing economy, plagued by Western sanctions imposed over Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear programme feared to be weapons-oriented but which Iran says is fully peaceful. Many ordinary Iranians feel held hostage to politics.

The registration of candidates for the elections has finished. Among them, the candidacy of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (close to President Ahmadinejad) and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (a former president) made headlines. To discuss this, we spoke with Taghi Rahmani, an Iranian political analysts based in Paris.

Vida Samei, euronews: “Mr Rahmani, what can we learn from this preliminary stage for the elections?”

Taghi Rahmani: “The plan by the supreme leader and those close to him is to hold an election where a reformist candidate is presented, but is weak. The two dominant streams close to the leader are the decision-making military and the core hardliners. They occupy front row seats in the household of power. They want a candidate who is unable to attract many votes. They want someone who could be present at a lower level of the establishment, just to add to the total voter turnout and enhance the election process. On the other hand, they put a lot of pressure on Ahmadinejad so that Mashaei would not be a candidate. They hoped that someone else would replace him. Rafsanjani and Mashaei being in the race challenges the plan by the leadership household.

“When Rafsanjani interferes with the leader’s plan, the balance changes. This has helped the reformists. Many of their candidates, such as Aref or Shariatmadari might withdraw in favour of Rafsanjani. We can say that this manoeuvre by Rafsanjani changes the balance of power, although the contest is just getting started. It is still not clear which direction the election is going to take. Iran is a country where outcomes are decided in the final minute of play.”

euronews: “Many personalities from the conservative front have registered to be candidates. Can we say this is a sign that the conservatives can’t come to a consensus over one person? Could a coalition be formed in the final few days, with all the conservatives rallying together behind a single candidate?”

Rahmani: “There are many things over which the conservative factions disagree. There is the faction of Mesbah-Yazdi which has put Lankarani forward as a candidate. Within the circle of those close to the supreme leader, we have Ghalibaf and Haddad-Adel along with Velayati as candidates. Khamenei usually tries to wait until the last minute to find out which conservative group is more powerful than the others.

“Choosing between Velayati and Lankarani is difficult. There is also Ghalibaf, a bureaucrat whose views are closer to Rafsanjani’s. Choosing will be very difficult. At the same time, permitting an all-out competition would be very complicated. There are reformist candidates who have stood behind Rafsanjani, and this adds to his power.”

euronews: “The election is to be held even though many questions remain unanswered about the 2009 elections, including killings and arrests. In addition to this, there is the current house arrest of Mirhossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karoubi. With all those things unresolved, will this election have any legitimacy?”

Rahmani: “The danger that Iran is feeling lies in the direction that the leaders of the Islamic Republic have taken in past years. These policies risk turning Iran into a North Korea, in terms of its institutions and internal management. That would mean destroying Iran’s fragile civil institutions. At the moment, voting for the regime in Iran does not signify an ideological vote of brotherhood. In fact, all efforts by the reformists are aimed at not letting things get even worse. Hashemi can go ahead with the help of reformists and even with the support of civil society. Hashemi is not a saviour. With all his attributes, weaknesses and strengths, Hashemi has won the attention of a section of Iran’s urban population due to his opposition to the polarising policies of the supreme Leader’s inner circle. He wants to change the leadership’s policies and push back the military.”

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