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The men who would be Iran's president

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GE07Ak01.html May 7, 2005 The men who would be Iran s president By Bill Samii Iran s next president will play a key
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2005

      May 7, 2005

      The men who would be Iran's president
      By Bill Samii

      Iran's next president will play a key role in shaping
      the country's domestic political climate as well as
      its relationship with the rest of the world. Will
      incumbent Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's successor be
      a conservative isolationist? A conservative who favors
      some liberalization of foreign policy while loosening
      the social reins? Or will the next president be a
      reformer eager to ease social restrictions and
      accelerate Iranian involvement with the rest of the

      Registration of prospective candidates for Iran's
      presidential election is scheduled to begin on Tuesday
      and continue for five days. The Interior Ministry will
      then forward this information to the Guardians
      Council, which will screen the applications until May
      24. Individuals whose candidacies are accepted can
      campaign from May 27 until 24 hours before election
      day on June 17.

      An applicant's biggest initial hurdle is the Guardians
      Council. It accepted just four of the more than 200
      applicants in 1997, and in 2001 it accepted only 10 of
      814 registrants.

      According to Article 115 of the Iranian constitution,
      a presidential candidate must be of Iranian origin and
      have Iranian nationality, must be a resourceful
      administrator, have a good record, be trustworthy and
      pious, and believe in the Islamic Republic's system
      and its fundamental principles. A more controversial
      aspect of the article on presidential qualifications
      is its assertion that the president must be a
      religious-political individual (rejal-i
      mazhabi-siasi). This vague clause leads to questions
      of whether or not the president should be a clergyman
      and also leaves it unclear as to whether or not a
      woman may serve as president.

      The most controversial candidate is arguably Ayatollah
      Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who has yet to confirm
      his intention to run. The 70-year-old Rafsanjani was
      born to a pistachio-farming family in the village of
      Bahraman, and while studying in Qom he developed a
      close relationship with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,
      the leading of the Islamic revolution in 1979 .

      Rafsanjani has served in most of the Islamic
      Republic's top jobs - he was the parliamentary speaker
      and then the president (1989-97). He currently chairs
      the Expediency Council, which has powerful oversight
      authority over legislation, and is deputy head of the
      Assembly of Experts. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
      Khamenei reportedly opposes a new Hashemi-Rafsanjani
      bid for the presidency.

      Rafsanjani hinted in a recent interview with USA Today
      that he could restore Iran-US relations, but in
      interviews with Iranian media he has been highly
      critical of the United States. In the 1980s, he
      advocated Iran's use of weapons of mass destruction,
      although he has since modified his comments on the
      issue and now says Iran has a right to use nuclear
      energy peacefully. He defends Iran's support for the
      Lebanese Hezbollah and similar organizations, is
      hostile to Israel and backs "martyrdom operations"
      (suicide bombings) against the Israeli occupation of
      Palestinian territories.

      According to a more recent report quoting an anonymous
      source close to Rafsanjani, he has a plan for
      restoring relations with the United States. He also is
      said to have plans to support the Arab-Israeli peace
      plan proposed by Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdallah bin
      Abdul Aziz. Rafsanjani reportedly intends to pursue
      Khatami's reforms, which encountered opposition from
      entrenched conservative elements, and he reportedly
      wants to eliminate the system of vilayat-i faqih (rule
      of the supreme jurisprudent).

      Furthermore, Rafsanjani purportedly wants to cooperate
      with the heretofore-shunned nationalist-religious
      forces in an effort to counter "an internal coup by
      some [Islamic Revolution Guards Corps] generals,
      radical commanders in the intelligence apparatus, and
      the religious seminary in Qom". Rafsanjani allegedly
      was prompted to act when he learned of a plan to
      destroy the centrist Executives of Construction Party
      - which has voiced support for his presidential bid -
      as well as reformist leaders, and his extended family.

      The reformers

      There are two prospective candidates backed by the
      reformist mainstream: Hojatoleslam Mehdi
      Mahdavi-Karrubi and Mustafa Moin. Karrubi was born in
      1937 in Aligudarz, Luristan province. He is currently
      a member of the Expediency Council and an adviser to
      Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Karrubi was
      parliamentary speaker from 1990-92 and again from
      2000-04. He also has headed the Imam Khomeini Relief
      Committee and the Martyr's Foundation.

      Karrubi is a founding member of the Militant Clerics
      Association and is currently its secretary general.
      Discussing the possibility of relations with the US,
      he said: "We can enjoy relations with all countries of
      the world, apart from Israel, of course" (Aftab-i
      Yazd, April 21). He continued: "With regards to
      America, I must say that the American statesmen should
      stop their current ways of interaction and approach
      vis-a-vis Iran. If this happens, then I will not be
      opposed to relations with America."

      Moin was born in 1951 in Najafabad, Isfahan province,
      and holds a doctorate in medicine. He served as
      chancellor of Shiraz University from 1981-82 and has
      served on the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council
      since 1983. Moin has served a number of terms in the
      parliament (1982-84, 1988-89, and 1997-2001). He was
      the culture and higher education minister from 1989-93
      and served as higher education minister from

      His candidacy is backed by the Islamic Iran
      Participation Front and the mujahideen of the Islamic
      Revolution Organization. Asked about his stance on
      relations with Washington, Moin said he advocates
      dialogue with the world, and the US is a member of
      that community (Sharq, March 10). "We consider our
      national interests as the main basis, and we can have
      interactions with America as equals, and without any
      imposed preconditions, and while safeguarding our
      national rights and power," Moin said. He added that
      the US must apologize to Iran and then offer
      compensation for "the moral, spiritual, and material
      damage they have inflicted on us".

      Other prospective reformist candidates are Ebrahim
      Asqarzadeh, Mustafa Kavakebian and Mohsen
      Mehralizadeh. Asqarzadeh was one of the students who
      stormed the US Embassy in 1979. Currently the head of
      the Solidarity Party, Asqarzadeh announced on April 22
      that he intends to be a candidate and expressed
      concern about public apathy and silence, as well as
      the appearance of "widespread militaristic ideas", the
      Iranian Labor News Agency reported. "I wouldn't have
      entered a situation that I clearly know its outcome
      were I not alarmed by the participation of military
      men and those in jackboots [in the presidential
      race]," said Asqarzadeh. "My motive for speaking to
      you and announcing my candidacy does not stem from my
      desire for power, but it is due to my concern for the
      current dangerous situation." Asqarzadeh also said
      boycotting elections is pointless.

      Asqarzadeh's recent efforts to secure elected office
      have been largely unsuccessful. The Guardians Council
      rejected him as a candidate for the 1998 Assembly of
      Experts election, the 2001 presidential election, and
      the 2004 parliamentary elections. He was elected to
      the Tehran municipal council in 1999, but the
      Guardians Council does not vet candidates in council

      Democracy Party Secretary General Mostafa Kavakebian
      has suggested that nepotism is rife in the country's
      leadership and that senior posts should be opened to
      outsiders such as himself. "I, as a little man among
      the nation's children, intend to propound the new
      discourse, meaning that the elite have been kept
      outside the bounds of power for 26 years and feel
      compassion for the system [and] should find their
      place within the ranks of those in power," Kavakebian
      said recently (Mardom Salari, March 12). Kavakebian
      said the country's senior leaders come from a group of
      just 2,700 people, and he noted that some officials
      have seven or eight different positions. Kavakebian
      said the government is inefficient because many of
      those in positions of power get there through
      "nepotism, cliques and windfall-seeking". He said Iran
      has not fully realized "all aspects of religious
      government and Islamic values".

      Prospective candidate Mehralizadeh was born in
      Maragheh, East Azerbaijan province, in 1956 and holds
      a doctorate in economics. He was a founder of the
      Construction Jihad and in 1979-81 served as a regional
      commander in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
      Mehralizadeh served within the Ministry of Heavy
      Industries from 1985-90, was managing director of the
      Kish Island Development Organization from 1990-92,
      deputy for power plants at the Atomic Energy
      Organization of Iran from 1993-95, and served as
      managing director of the Shahed Investment Company
      from 1995-97. Mehralizadeh was governor general of
      Khorasan province from 1997-2001, and he has served as
      vice president and head of the national Physical
      Education Organization since 2001.

      Mehralizadeh's spokesman said on April 26 that the
      former has decided to be a candidate and will begin
      campaigning soon (Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA,
      April 26). He had said months earlier that he would
      withdraw from the race only if the reformists settle
      on a joint candidate (Farhang-i Ashti, January 10).

      The conservatives

      There are several prospective conservative candidates,
      a development that reflects age-based and ideological
      divisions among this group.

      The Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces
      named Ali Larijani as its candidate in April, and
      parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Bahonar said the
      coordination council hopes to discourage
      Hashemi-Rafsanjani from seeking the presidency (Sharq,
      April 28). Larijani headed Islamic Republic of Iran
      Broadcasting from 1994-2004 and also has served as
      minister of Islamic culture and guidance and as an
      official in the Islamic Revolution Guards Ministry. He
      currently serves as the supreme leader's
      representative to the Supreme National Security
      Council. His father was a prominent apolitical cleric,
      and his brothers are politically active.

      Larijani said on March 31 that he believes the US
      wants to reopen its embassy in Tehran and that Iran
      should be careful, Fars News Agency reported.
      "America's threats are serious, though its
      war-mongering language is not real," he said in an
      earlier speech (Iranian Student's News Agency, ISNA,
      March 26). "They want to weaken the Iranian government
      and wish to influence the will of the nation and our
      officials, so that we ourselves would satisfy their
      needs." In a March 9 speech in Kashan, Larijani argued
      that "making any concession on nuclear technology is
      tantamount to the biggest treason," Fars News Agency
      reported. He previously dismissed an Iran-EU agreement
      on the suspension of uranium enrichment as amounting
      to the exchange of a "pearl" for a "bonbon".

      Many of the more traditional conservatives back Ali
      Akbar Velayati, who was born in Tehran in 1945.
      Velayati is a physician who was foreign minister from
      1981-97 and currently serves as an adviser to the
      Supreme Leader. He also is a member of the Expediency
      Council. Velayati has pledged to withdraw from the
      race if Rafsanjani enters the field.

      In 1997, a German court found Velayati, Khamenei,
      Rafsanjani and Intelligence and Security Minister
      Ali-Akbar Fallahian guilty for their roles in the 1992
      assassinations of Iranian dissidents in Germany.
      Referring to that case - as well as to the 1991
      assassination of former prime minister Shahpour
      Bakhtiar - in a 2005 interview, Velayati blamed
      unnamed parties who were trying to damage Iran-Europe
      relations (Etemad, May 1). With respect to current
      Tehran-London relations, he said, "Britain's role in
      the European Union is mainly as America's agent."

      Younger conservatives are divided among their
      preferred potential candidates: Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad,
      Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Mohsen Rezai.

      Ahmadi-Nejad became mayor of Tehran in April 2003. He
      is widely regarded as "unassuming and simple", as well
      as straight-talking - perceptions that have made him
      popular (Sharq, June 8, 2004). Ahmadi-Nejad's
      political activism commenced shortly after Iran's 1979
      revolution, with the Office for Strengthening Unity.
      He served as governor general of Ardabil province
      during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Ahmadi-Nejad is now
      a member of the conservative Association of Engineers
      and a member of the central council of the Society of
      the Devotees of the Islamic Revolution. He said on
      April 28 that he will his announce his decision on his
      candidacy on registration day, IRNA reported.

      The 43-year-old Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf headed the
      Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) air force
      until June 2000, when he was selected to be chief of
      the national police force. Qalibaf is one of the 24
      IRGC commanders who, in July 1999, sent a letter to
      President Mohammad Khatami warning that if he did not
      act to quell student unrest, they would not stand by
      idly and would take matters into their own hands.
      Under his command, the previously unpopular police
      force improved its reputation by implementing the 110
      rapid-reaction system, which made the force operate
      more efficiently; he also has made progress in
      eliminating the influence of political factions in the
      police. Qalibaf resigned from the police leadership in

      In a March 12 speech, Qalibaf identified three areas
      on which he would focus: the economy, foreign affairs
      and "social capital". Referring to the economy, he
      said, "The people's buying power has not seen suitable
      growth; we have even seen stagnation in certain
      areas." Turning to foreign affairs, he said, "Given
      Iran's outstanding geopolitical weight and the role
      which the country can play at the regional and global
      level, we have not properly tapped these capacities."
      And regarding the issue of "social capital", Qalibaf
      said, "In the area of protecting our social capital,
      we face challenges which make us lose our productive
      role in the fields of science, politics, economy, and
      wealth as well as our social identity."

      Born in 1954 in Masjid-i Suleiman, Mohsen Rezai headed
      the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps from 1981-97, and
      now serves as secretary of the Expediency Council. He
      has promoted himself as an independent conservative
      candidate. "I consider myself a new rightist and even
      more rightist than many colleagues," he said (IRNA,
      March 26). He has dismissed concern about his military
      background, suggesting that his critics are prejudiced
      or ignorant (ISNA, April 13). "My political ideas are
      rooted in my deep belief in democracy, and I left the
      military when I decided to take part in political
      activities," he said.

      During the campaign, Rezai has been subdued on
      foreign-policy issues, but he has expressed concern
      about US regional ambitions since September 11, 2001.
      He also supports Iranian diplomatic efforts on the
      nuclear issue but has expressed concern that Iran is
      conceding too much to Europe. Rezai said Iranian
      diplomacy during President Khatami's second term
      (which started in 2001) has been marked by submissive
      diplomacy, missed opportunities, and unilateral
      concessions in exchange for minimal financial returns
      (Entekhab, April 27, 2003). However, Rezai has
      represented Iran in track-two diplomatic meetings in

      Seyyed Reza Zavarei announced on December 12 that he
      would stand as an independent in the 2005 race, ISNA
      reported. A conservative, the 67-year-old Zavarei ran
      for president in 1997. He has served as a lawyer on
      the Guardians Council, served in the Interior
      Ministry, served two terms in the legislature, and
      headed the deeds registration organization. Zavarei
      gave as reasons for his decision to run "God's will",
      the "country's conditions", and the need to resolve
      society's problems. If elected, according to Zavarei,
      his cabinet will not be chosen on factional grounds.
      Honesty and competence will be the determining
      factors, he has vowed. Zavarei said Ayatollah Ruhollah
      Khomeini did not rule out relations with the United
      States and that Iran is not hostile to the American
      people but added, "We cannot have relations with
      America because their leaders have made the world hate
      America" (Mardom Salari, January 25). He continued,
      "The problem is that they want to rule the world.
      Under such conditions we will not be blackmailed."

      Two women have expressed interest in bids for the
      presidency. Zanjan parliamentary representative Rafat
      Bayat declared in March that she wants to be an
      independent presidential candidate. Bayat expressed
      confidence that the Guardians Council will approve a
      female candidate once a woman with the necessary
      managerial and executive qualities comes forward.
      Bayat decried the impact of factionalism on the
      political process and said student groups and
      independent figures urged her to run. Islamic
      Revolution's Women Society Secretary General Azam
      Taleqani announced on April 30 that she is considering
      entering the presidential race, IRNA reported. Her
      previous attempt to run for president was cut short
      when the Guardians Council rejected her candidacy.

      Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, a former vice president
      and five-term legislator who was born in Semnan in
      1948, is secretary of the Supreme National Security
      Council and also serves on the Expediency Council. His
      position on the security council has given him a
      prominent role in Iran's nuclear negotiations with
      other countries. A conservative figure and member of
      the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, he is
      identified with Hashemi-Rafsanjani and does not appear
      to have an independent political base. Some observers
      see Rohani, who has been labeled a pragmatic
      conservative, as the choice of the moderate right. He
      has indicated little interest in running for the
      presidency, however.

      The Guardians Council's strategy on approving
      candidates remains a mystery. In some cases, it has
      chosen to limit public choice: In February 2004, it
      disqualified some 44% of prospective parliamentary
      candidates; in the 2001 presidential election,
      however, it allowed many candidates in an effort to
      encourage voter participation. (This also served to
      dilute the reformist vote and reduce the eventual
      victor's mandate.)

      There is also a possibility that if Rafsanjani does
      enter the race, no candidate will secure the required
      majority of the vote. This would require a second
      round of voting.
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