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Analysis: Iran's Reformers Lack Viable Candidate

Iranian governmental bodies are locked in a dispute over when to hold the country's next presidential election -- in May or in early June -- but three conservative figures have already declared their intention to be candidates.

Such eagerness stems from the conservatives' lopsided domination of the February 2004 parliamentary polls and their belief that they can duplicate these results. The country's reformist organizations -- known as the 2nd of Khordad Front after the date of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election -- are less sanguine, and they appear to have lost what little unity they once had. To date, therefore, no viable reformist candidate has stepped forward.

Indeed, some reformist leaders reportedly are backing the candidacy of Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who is usually seen as a favorite of the center-right or the "pragmatic conservatives." A 4 December editorial in "Farhang-i Ashti" said that reformists such Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and Sadeq Zibakalam openly support Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and the Islamic Iran Participation Party support him implicitly. The editorial ascribed the support for the ex-president to age-cohort divisions within the reformist front, and added that the younger reformists favor Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The "middle-aged reformists" oppose a Hashemi-Rafsanjani candidacy.

An article in the 4 December "Sharq," on the other hand, asserted that the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and the Islamic Iran Participation Party support the candidacy of former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 15 November that Moin had agreed to be a presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 November 2004). Mustafa Derayati, a leading figure in the Participation Party, said in the 5 December "Sharq" that his organization has chosen Moin.

These announcements may have come as unwelcome news to Moin, who said on 5 December in Shiraz that "I have not made a decision about participating in the presidential election," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Moin added in his speech that people should not expect a repetition of the 23 May 1997 elections, when dark-horse reformist candidate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami won a surprise landslide victory.

Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi also is being promoted as a possible candidate. One of the members of the association, Mohammad Baqer Zakeri, said on 1 December that Karrubi is the strongest potential reformist candidate, Mehr News Agency reported.
Reformists want a candidate who will be allowed to run. Their choices are limited.

At the Mardom Salari party's 2 December congress in Tehran, Karrubi said that he still has not made up his mind on running for president, IRNA reported.

Karrubi repeated his position, in an interview that appeared in the 5 December "Sharq," that he has yet to make up his mind. He predicted that the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front could win the election if it coordinates its actions and if public participation is high.

Passing The Test

Choosing a candidate is not the only difficulty the reformists are facing. They must also choose one who will survive the Guardians Council's vetting process.

Presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said a strong reformist candidate has not come forward because potential candidates fear having their candidacies disallowed by the Guardians Council, "Sharq" reported on 5 December. A member of the Guardians Council should run for president, Abtahi recommended, as a test of public support for the institution that makes decisions on behalf of the people.

The reformists should choose a presidential candidate who is "committed, capable, competent, powerful, insightful, and prudent to the extent that he will not be doubted and disqualified," according to a letter from Qom reformists that was published in the 29 November "Aftab-i Yazd." The letter stressed the importance of unity in the 2nd of Khordad Front, and suggested that the reformist groups should meet and take a common stance on what they can do to meet public demands.

"Reaching consensus on one candidate is the only way the reformists can win," Mardom Salari party Secretary-General Mustafa Kavakebian said, according to the 20 November "Mardom Salari." Consensus, he went on to say, would "minimize the chances of "disqualification."

Former parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad expressed similar concerns in the 22 November "Farhang-i Ashti." After the mass disqualification of candidates for the 2004 parliamentary election, he said, a lot of people think that conditions for a free election no longer exist. Reformists want a candidate who will be allowed to run. Their choices are limited.

Who the reformists tap as their leading candidate remains to be seen -- Moin, Karrubi, or somebody else. The candidates still have some time to decide, as a date for the election has not been set. They need to hurry, however, as the unofficial campaign period -- marked by party meetings and get-out-the-vote speeches by big name political figures -- will begin in January.