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Iran: Abundance Of Candidates Worries Hard-Liners

Conservatives in Iran are worried that they have too many horses in the 17 June presidential race. Of the eight candidates, four are firmly in the hard-line camp and are referred to as "principlists" (osulgarayan) -- Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai. Another candidate, Expediency Council Chairman and two-term president (1989-97) Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, can be considered a center-right candidate, but he is insufficiently conservative for most hard-line activists.

To win outright in the first round, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the votes. If nobody earns this amount, there will be a runoff on 24 June. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is the name most frequently mentioned by prospective voters, and he also has topped recent surveys. Ranking behind him have been Qalibaf and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin, who is a reformist. In the most recently reported survey on 14 June, which was commissioned by Fars News Agency, a plurality of the 16,751 respondents said they backed Hashemi-Rafsanjani (22.27 percent). Following the front-runner were Qalibaf at 20.08 percent, Ahmadinejad at 15.53 percent, Moin at 10 percent, Karrubi at 7.87 percent, Larijani at 7.49 percent, Mehralizadeh at 2.83 percent, and Rezai at 2.23 percent. The presence of so many hard-line candidates is diluting the vote, and there have been calls for some of the candidates to stand down. The hard-liners started a new round of negotiations on 12 June in the hope that Larijani, who is backed by the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, would be chosen as the ultimate candidate, Mehr News Agency reported. "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 12 June that only the candidates themselves would participate in this meeting. The "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported the same day that Ahmadinejad and Rezai would announce their intention to withdraw in Larijani's favor. A leading member of the Islamic Coalition Party, Hamid Reza Taraqi, noted the "high probability" of some withdrawals in the coming days, and Tehran parliamentary representative Hamid Reza Katouzian predicted Ahmadinejad's withdrawal. The newspaper quoted a senior official in the Tehran municipality, Seyyed Abdolsaleh Jafari-Kermanshahi, as saying that Larijani was second to Hashemi-Rafsanjani in recent surveys. However, Mehdi Chamran, who heads the municipal council and is a leader in the right-wing Islamic Iran Developers Council, dismissed the possibility of Ahmadinejad's withdrawal. On 13 June, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported that the discussions were continuing, and it quoted Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel as saying that a consensus before the election is unlikely. The newspaper added that Ayatollahs Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, Ali Meshkini, and Abolqasem Khazali were applying their energies to the issue. Rezai, meanwhile, has made it clear that he will not withdraw from the race. "I will be standing till the end and I will not withdraw under any circumstances," Rezai said on 13 June. Fars News Agency reported. A Call For Consensus The conservative effort to achieve consensus is not confined to the backrooms of party politics. Leading hard-line figures have addressed the issue in the media. "Kayhan" Editor in Chief Hussein Shariatmadari has written many editorials in which he calls for hard-line unity, as Britain's "Financial Times" notes on 14 June. Shariatmadari wrote in the 13 June "Kayhan," for example, that most partisan voters have already made up their minds, and it is almost too late for the "principle-ist" candidates to consolidate their efforts. He urged them to choose a candidate. On 8 June, Shariatmadari wrote that according to the polls, total support for the four hard-line candidates exceeds support for any other candidate. People therefore support fundamentalism, but support has not coalesced around any particular candidate. "If the four fundamentalist candidates withdraw from their candidacy in favor of one from among themselves," he wrote, "the victory of the sole candidate will be certain, or his chance to win the election will be so much higher than the chance of other candidates that it can be regarded as a near certainty." Shariatmadari dismissed suggestions that the votes would go to any but the other hard-line candidates. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who is involved with the Islamic Revolution Coalition Forces, also has expressed concern. He reportedly said that if the "principlists" do not win the election then they would lose everything, "Etemad" reported on 7 June. He expressed concern that such a loss could lead to the conservatives' irrelevance. A week later, Bahonar predicted that there will be a run-off, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 13 June. Bahonar, who is serving as Larijani's campaign manager, said his candidate and Qalibaf are closing in on Hashemi-Rafsanjani. It is tempting to dismiss the relevance of the Iranian presidential election. Under the current constitution, elected officials' actions are subordinate to the decisions of unelected officials. Nevertheless, the elections can be viewed as a window on Iranians' sentiments toward their political system and a measure of their hopes for the future. See also: Turnout Crucial In Iranian Election RFE/RL Special: Iran Votes 2005