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Analysis: Abundance Of Candidates In Iranian Presidential Race

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami With only four months before Iran's next presidential election, it still is not clear who will compete in the race. Five men have said they want to be the main conservative candidate and one of them has said he would even run as an independent; two men have announced their interest in being the reformist candidate; and a couple of others have expressed an interest in competing but seem to have no significant support. A few more names are mentioned as possible candidates, but these individuals have not made a commitment yet. This plethora of candidates and the accompanying indecision has led to speculation that there will be no clear victor on election day on 17 June, and there will be a second round to determine the next president.

An Internet poll of 28,470 people over a 15-day period identified 24 possible candidates, the Baztab website reported on 20 January. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who has not declared his candidacy yet, was the top candidate, earning 17.2 percent of the votes cast, and the reformists' Mustafa Moin followed him with 14.9 percent. Baztab noted that several of the named individuals have said they will not be candidates. A report in the 27 January "Farhang-i Ashti" identified 16 candidates.

The abundance of candidates reflects the large number of political factions. This includes the traditional right; new or extremist right (osulgarayan); moderate or practical right (amalgarayan); the traditional left; and the new left, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 January. The traditional right currently favors the candidacy of Supreme Leader's adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati. The new right has five choices -- Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Larijani, police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli. The moderate right has only one choice, Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani.

Velayati has said that he will withdraw if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race, and this raises the question of where the traditional right will shift its support. "Farhang-i Ashti" asserted that the traditional right is likely to side with the moderate right in order to offset the rise of the new or extremist right.

Three-Way Conservative Split

Yet there are more divisions between the conservatives, according to "Farhang-i Ashti." These are "temporary inclinations" that will disappear after the election. The independent right is symbolized by Mohsen Rezai. Two other candidates are described as "market-heaters," meaning that they are not serious candidates, and their presence is only intended to generate interest in the election. The "market-heating right" candidate ("rast-i bazar garmkon") is Reza Zavarei. Normally he would be considered a traditionalist, but the main conservative body, the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, does not back him. "Farhang-i Ashti" describes Zavarei as the least important candidate. The newspaper adds that candidates of the "market-heating left" ("rast-i bazar garmkon") are the head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Mardom Salari party leader Mustafa Kavakebian.

Amir Mohebbian, an editor for the conservative "Resalat" newspaper, believes there is a three-way split within the conservative camp but uses slightly different labels. Mohebbian says the traditionalist right consists of older and more experienced right-wingers who prefer a revolutionary foreign policy, "Etemad" reported on 16 February. The fundamentalist (osulgara) right wing, he said, does not believe in reform and advocates continuous revolution. The modernist right wing (jarian-i noandish) believes in the goals and ideals of the revolution, but it advocates achieving them through a reformist process. Modernists oppose a state of perpetual anxiety to maintain revolutionary fervor.

Mohebbian goes on to say that the fundamentalists have misinterpreted the failure of the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement. The reformists failed because they did not deliver economic development. This does not mean, as the fundamentalists believe, that people are willing to forsake political freedom for economic well-being. The modernists believe that people are interested in economic development but they have not given up on political reform.

An earlier classification of the conservative groupings appeared in "The Washington Post" on 29 November. The most puritanical group is the "ideological conservatives" or Kayhanis, whose views appear in the "Kayhan" newspaper and which take a tough stance on dealing with the outside world. The most influential group is the "new right," or neoconservatives, who dominated the February 2004 parliamentary polls and whose platform mixes theocracy and modernism. This religiously conservative grouping calls for competent government and job creation through a stronger private sector. While going along with the EU nuclear stance, it is tougher when it comes to reengaging the United States. According to "The Washington Post," Larijani and Velayati are neoconservatives.

The "pragmatic conservatives" are connected with the Moderation and Development Party and the Executives of Construction Party and are flexible on foreign policy issues, "The Washington Post" reports. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a member of this camp. "Traditional conservatives," such as Shi'a clerics in Qom and many bazaar merchants, tend to be less involved in political affairs than the other groups.

New Factions

Two men have expressed an interest in being the candidate for the left-wing, which is still reeling from the drubbing it received in the 2003 municipal council elections and the 2004 parliamentary elections. But if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race it is likely to upset Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mustafa Moin's plans. Meanwhile, many lesser-known parties are creating new factions.

The 15-party Islamic Iran Popular Front was created on 21 February, ISNA reported. The head of the front's coordination council, Mohtashami-Pur, announced that the front backs the candidacies of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Karrubi, and Rezai.

The 20-party Front for Consensus in Islamic Iran announced on 18 January that it backs Rezai's candidacy, Mehr News Agency reported. Amir Hussein Marvi, a member of the front's central council, said most members are young people and teenagers, and he said they are frustrated with the constant political disputes.

The Mardom Salari party's Kavakebian announced the creation of the 14-party Front for Consolidation of Democracy on 7 January, ISNA reported. He noted that none of the front's members are involved with the current government and are therefore not responsible for the current state of affairs. The front does not include groups that are viewed as opposition groups by other countries and legal opposition groups domestically, he said, because their candidates will never be allowed to run for office. Other members of the front, according to the ISNA report, include the National Harmony Party, the organization for Defending the National Interests of Iran, and the Society of Tomorrow's Iran.

There are about 100 licensed political organizations in Iran. Most of them stir into action around election time, and afterwards they are not very active. All the indications are that this is what is taking place now. As election day nears, there probably will be greater consolidation and a winnowing of the political field. Given the current plethora of prospective candidates, an editorial in the 8 February "Aftab-i Yazd" suggested that no candidate will win outright in the first round of voting.