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Iran: Leading Presidential Candidate Gets Important Endorsement

Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani (file photo) Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who served as president for two terms from 1989-97, has emerged as the most popular candidate for the 17 June presidential election in several polls, and late last week he received the endorsement of the country's oldest political organization for clerics.

It is important to note that the polls show Hashemi-Rafsanjani will not win an outright majority. According to the constitution, if nobody wins more than 50 percent in the first round of the election, a second round will be held between the top two finishers on the subsequent Friday.

In the poll reported most recently, which was conducted by the hard-line Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) in 30 cities in late May, 32.6 percent of respondents indicated they would vote for Hashemi-Rafsanjani, ILNA reported on 10 June. He was followed by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (18.6 percent), Mustafa Moin (8.9 percent), Ali Larijani (8.9 percent), Mehdi Karrubi (7.5 percent), Mahmud Ahmadinejad (4.1 percent), Mohsen Mehralizadeh (2.2 percent), and Mohsen Rezai (1.2 percent).

Hashemi-Rafsanjani came out ahead in a poll conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, ILNA reported on 7 June. He was the preferred candidate of 19.1 percent of respondents in Tehran and 12 other cities. Following Hashemi-Rafsanjani are Qalibaf (9.5 percent), Moin (6.7 percent), Larijani (4.5 percent), Karrubi (3.6 percent), Ahmadinejad (2.8 percent), Mehralizadeh (1.5 percent), and Rezai (1.4 percent). Another 17.7 percent of respondents said they will not vote.

These polls may be encouraging for Hashemi-Rafsanjani's supporters, but they are not perfect. Ali-Reza Yusefi, chief of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's campaign in Isfahan, described the polls as only "50 to 60 percent accurate," the "Financial Times" reported on 8 June.

Endorsement of Conservative Clerics

The conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran) has declared its support for Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Radio Farda reported on 10 June. The association met many times but could not make a decision, the Baztab website reported on 7 June.

The clerical organization's dilemma was that Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a member, but the organization's leadership is involved with the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, which backs another candidate -- Ali Larijani. Generational divisions and ideological disputes are behind the conservatives' lack of unity and their inability to decide on a candidate. There have been calls for some of the candidates to withdraw from the race, but so far none have given ground.

This lack of unity was apparent among the religious community. In Qom, the religious seminary failed to decide on its favorite candidate, "Etemad" reported on 7 June. Thirty-two out of 55 people at the meeting voted for Hashemi-Rafsanjani, but he needed a minimum of 36 to get the endorsement.

A late-May statement from seminary lecturers said Hashemi-Rafsanjani's running in the election does not benefit the system, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 28 May. They accused him of ignoring the existing laws during his presidency and trying to persuade Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the legislature that his plans were the best. The seminarians went on to say that economic development at the expense of social justice will eventually lead to "social divisions, favoritism, poverty, and corruption." They said Hashemi-Rafsanjani's present plans are identical to the ones he had 16 years ago, and "he believes it is logical and legal to have social cleavages in society -- even among statesmen."

Hojatoleslam Mujtaba Keshani, who serves on the central council of the hard-line Ansar-i Hizbullah political organization, is unenthusiastic about Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He said the same corrupt people associated with the Executives of Construction Party, who were in the Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami governments, are trying to make a comeback, "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein" reported on 25 May. He also criticized the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party. Keshani compared the privatization plans of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's administration with the era of the Thousand Families, the aristocracy of the monarchic period. Keshani criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani for his campaign photographs with made-up girls who are not wearing their Islamic head coverings in a sufficiently modest fashion. He said social cleavages grew during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency.

The country's other main clerical political organization, the left-leaning Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), broke away from the older clerical organization in 1988. It backs the candidacy of Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, who is its secretary-general.

More than 63 present and former parliamentarians have declared their support for Hashemi-Rafsanjani, ILNA reported on 6 June. The legislators issued a signed statement backing Hashemi-Rafsanjani's reform plans.

While Hashemi-Rafsanjani is getting endorsements from political organizations, it is not so clear if the general public will vote for him. Support for him in the Tehran bazaar seems low, according to "The Christian Science Monitor" on 2 June. Indeed, the Islamic Associations of the Bazaar and Guilds of Tehran (Anjumanha-yi Islami-yi Bazaar va Asnaf-i Tehran) has endorsed Larijani's presidential bid (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 June 2005).

Compared to his competition, Hashemi-Rafsanjani's campaigning has been passive and he has not left Tehran. He said on 28 May that visiting the provinces is impossible because there is not enough time and he does not want to be accused of using state resources, ISNA reported the next day. The other candidates have made a point of meeting with ethnic minorities and provincial residents and acknowledging their concerns.

Discussing the Issues

Although he has not been the most active campaigner, Hashemi-Rafsanjani has made himself available to the media. "The New York Times" carried an exclusive interview with him on 25 May. A few months earlier, he gave an interview to "USA Today" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 February 2005). He is cited frequently by the Iranian media.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in an interview taped on 3 June and broadcast the next day that alleged U.S. hostility to Iran is partly based on "greed." He went on to say that if Iran convinces the United States that it is only defending its own interests, then the two countries could resolve their problems. Hashemi-Rafsanjani described the U.S. presence in the region as a problem and expressed concern about Iran's troubled relations with some of its Persian Gulf neighbors. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran should receive credit for not interfering with the Iraqi elections, even though it could have. He said Iran was happy with the fall of the Taliban and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, as well as the containment of Al-Qaeda.

In a 4 June meeting with members of the bakers' union, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said the United States has unintentionally helped Iran by weakening the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed anti-Iranian group, Mehr News Agency reported.

Turning to the nuclear issue, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran will not forsake the right to use nuclear energy peacefully. He said according to international law Iran should not build nuclear weapons, and he added that Iran should prove that it is not doing so. Nevertheless, he said, international law entitles Iran to foreign support in developing technological and scientific capabilities. "We have to insist on our rights and get them," he said.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani also discussed domestic issues in the interview broadcast on 4 June. He advocated freedom of expression, as long as people do not pass undefined "red lines." He advocated education for young people and reminded them that they will be held accountable for their actions in the afterlife. He noted the importance of education in improving the country's culture, and said there should be greater attention to education. Teachers are very important in this arena, he said, and the best professors should be hired. He also called for improvements in the quality of research and laboratory equipment. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran is lagging behind the rest of the world scientifically.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani told state television that his compatriots are not united. On 17 June the world will see if enough of them can unite to elect Hashemi-Rafsanjani to his third presidential term.