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Iran Prepares For Important Presidential Vote

(Washington, DC--August 27, 2004) As the results of Iran's May 2005 presidential election may well "affect Iran's foreign policy," RFE/RL Iran analyst A. William Samii suggested that now is the time to begin monitoring the election process during a recent presentation at RFE/RL's Washington office.

Samii, RFE/RL's Regional Analysis Coordinator for Southwest Asia and the Middle East and editor of "RFE/RL Iran Report," indicated that Iran's governing clerics place great emphasis on voter turnout at elections -- a factor that has been in steady decline since the first election of current president Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in 1997. The latest Iranian election, the parliamentary vote in February 2004, saw voter participation drop to 51 percent, according to Samii, with many voters turning in blank ballots to protest against the lack of reform.

Students, women, the clergy, and veterans of the Iran-Iraq war are all constituencies that candidates and political parties will seek to impress, Samii said. Although the number of students in Iran is large, Samii said that he does not believe they will have a significant impact on the election, because many have become apathetic due to a lack of credible student leadership. Women may play a more important role in the election, according to Samii, because of tightening enforcement of laws on women's attire and a crackdown on women's rights issues. Samii also indicated that nationalist-religious forces, such as the banned but still-active Liberation Movement of Iran, will also play a role in the election.

Samii listed ten possible candidates for the presidency, based on his review of the Iranian press and on interviews with leading Iran-watchers. Two of those names stood out as possible nominees, according to Samii -- Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi and Tehran mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad. Musavi is one of the leading candidates to represent the reformist movement that backs President Khatami, Samii said, while Ahmadi-Nejad has been mentioned as a possible choice of the conservative forces that took control of parliament in February's election. Others mentioned as potential candidates include Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Issues important to Iranian voters, according to Samii, include economic concerns such as high unemployment (25%) and inflation (16-20%); the restriction of political and social freedoms; strictly enforced press laws; and worries about the impact of drugs and "moral decay" on the country's Islamic system. Foreign policy questions that will be debated during the election include Iran's relations with Iraq and Afghanistan; the country's controversial nuclear program; the division of Caspian Sea resources; and relations with Iran's Persian Gulf neighbors.

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