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Iran: Reformist Campaigning Could Yield An Upset In Presidential Race

Presidential candidate Mohsen Mehralizadeh The two reformist Iranian presidential candidates -- Mustafa Moin and Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- who were initially disqualified by the Guardians Council and then reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are campaigning in earnest.

Moin is taking some controversial positions and is trying to duplicate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential campaign. Mehralizadeh's campaign is more lackluster thus far. If Iranians do vote in large numbers, it is not impossible that there could be an upset reformist victory in the 17 June presidential election.

Moin has decided to stay in the presidential race, campaign publicity chief Issa Saharkhiz announced on 28 May, according to IRNA. Initially disqualified by the Guardians Council, Moin was reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Some of his supporters said he should decline to run as a protest against the vetting system, which ultimately found only eight out of 1,014 prospective candidates eligible to stand in the 17 June election.

Moin appears to be trying to copy Khatami's campaign, when the eventual president won broad support from students and women. Moin has a female spokesperson. He once served as Science, Research, and Technology Minister (effectively, the higher education minister), so he has some popularity with students and has appealed to them in his campaign. Additionally, he is backed by several of the parties that supported Khatami, namely the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Moin's running mate will be Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, according to IRNA. Moin has pledged to create the post of vice president for human rights.

Moin's spokeswoman, Elaheh Kulyai, said he will cooperate with any groups that intend to operate within a constitutional framework, "Eqbal" reported on 29 May. She said Moin does not rule out working with Iranian expatriates, and he may have women and members of the nationalist-religious forces in his cabinet. The legislature must give cabinet nominees a vote of confidence and then they must be approved by the supreme leader. It is extremely unlikely that this would happen with a national-religious activist. So either Moin is trying to sway voters his way or he is taking a genuinely original stance.

Mohammad-Reza Khatami, Moin's candidate for vice president and the brother of the current president, said at a 1 June news conference that Iran-U.S. relations are not beyond repair, IRNA reported. "One of the major challenges facing Iran's foreign policy is relations between Iran and the U.S.," Khatami said. "The relations are presently critical with a record of complicated problems; the possibility exists for their settlement, although the problems are enormous." He said that cooperation, dialogue, and social contacts between Iranians and Americans, particularly among scholars, journalists, and undefined "elites," will contribute to resolving disputes.

Khatami also said on 1 June that Iran should not interfere in the Middle East peace process, dpa reported. He said, "We support the Palestinian cause but Palestine is a sovereign state with a sovereign government and Iran should in no way interfere in their affairs."

Moin described his presidential platform or manifesto on state television on 2 June. "I have repeatedly said that democracy is the only and only answer to threats against Iran," he said. Democracy is essential for sustainable development, he said, whereas the opposite of democracy is not sustainable and will eventually result in dictatorship. Economic growth is required to resolve economic problems, but this is not possible without democracy and respect for the rule of law. Moin also complained of extensive corruption and said this can only be fought in a democracy, where a free press and civic institutions serve as a watchdog. Moin condemned media censorship, described press freedom as "the foundation of democracy," and called for an end to Internet censorship. Moin also called for cultural diversity, respect for ethnic languages and all religious groups, and the promotion of academic freedom.

Unlike President Khatami eight years earlier, however, Moin does not have the support of two very important political parties. The left-wing Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) is supporting the candidacy of its secretary-general, Mehdi Karrubi. The centrist Executives of Construction Party is supporting Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy.

The other reformist who was initially disqualified and then reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei is Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who serves as vice president for physical training. The Association of Iran's Positive Thinkers (Jamiyat-i Mosbatandishan-i Iran) has endorsed Mehralizadeh's presidential bid, "Etemad" reported on 1 June. Five thousand Azerbaijani students and lecturers at Tehran University have endorsed Mehralizadeh, ILNA reported on 29 May, as have residents from Taleqan, which is west of Tehran.

In a speech to the underprivileged in Ardabil Province, Mehralizadeh said the country needs to revise its welfare and medical-insurance system so people do not live in poverty, "Etemad" reported. Rather than stressing ethnic uniformity, he told a group of young people in Islamshahr the same day, minorities' linguistic and cultural issues should be addressed so they feel that they are part of the country. Mehralizadeh said he has seven rivals in the presidential race, but he does not plan to engage in negative campaigning.

In a 2 June interview on Iranian state television, Mehralizadeh expressed concern about the brain drain. He noted that some young Iranians who go abroad to study are unwilling to return, and he said the government must do something to counteract this phenomenon. He also touched on ethnic issues, saying that homogeneity is harmful and diversity enriches the country.

Turning to foreign policy, Mehralizadeh said the government must force the U.S. to resolve its problems with Iran. Iran should not, however, expect the U.S. to address it from a position of strength.

These developments, particularly Moin's statements, indicate that the campaign could be more exciting than expected. If a large number of people do vote, then the conservative shoo-in is no longer a certainty and there could be an upset. This does not change the fact that in Iran the president and other elected officials are essentially powerless compared to the supreme leader and other unelected institutions. Moreover, it would probably mean that the largely ineffectual reformist movement will continue to limp along, vainly trying to change the system via its flawed constitutional framework.