20 June 2005, Volume 8, Number 24
AS WINNERS HEAD FOR RUNOFF, LOSERS COMPLAIN OF FRAUD Two of the losing candidates in Iran's ninth presidential election on 17 June have complained of military interference in the election, with one calling on the country's supreme leader to intervene and another warning of a fascistic trend in the country's politics.
The overall process has resulted in a first for the Islamic republic, where a presidential runoff is required because none of the candidates earned more than half of the votes cast. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is slated to face Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the runoff scheduled for 24 June.
But voter turnout was better than in many other presidential elections, and this could have a tremendous impact in the runoff.
The purported third-place finisher, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, complained on 18 June about the behavior of the Guardians Council, which is supposed to supervise the election, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to appoint a special team to investigate the vote-counting process. "Had the Guardians Council had the authority, it would have ordered Ahmadinejad to be elected without even considering the votes," Mahdavi-Karrubi said. Mahdavi-Karrubi said he spoke with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari and urged him not to extend the polling hours because of the possibility of fraud. Musavi-Lari reportedly shared this concern but said he was under pressure to keep the polls open.
Mahdavi-Karrubi also referred to alleged interference by the military in the election, IRNA and ILNA reported. "We will prove that the heads of the [Islamic Revolution] Guards Corps had delivered speeches in many places in support of certain candidates," Mahdavi-Karrubi said. Referring to Basij Resistance Force commander Mohammad Hejazi, he said, "If Mr. Hejazi wants to form a party and make Basij his party, he should become the secretary-general of Basij."
Moin Also Protests
Elaheh Kulyai, who is the spokesman for fifth-place finisher Mustafa Moin, also complained on 18 June that Basij personnel interfered with the vote counting, IRNA reported. After the preliminary election results were announced, Moin released a statement in which he described interference in the election process, ILNA reported.
"A powerful will entered the arena bent on the victory of a particular candidate and the elimination of the other candidates and opened the way to the organization of some military bodies and the support of the election supervisory apparatus, so that the self-evident rights of the other candidates could be targeted," Moin said in his statement. "Today, anyone can clearly see the effect of this organized interference on the election results."
"The warning bell has sounded for our fledgling democracy," Moin cautioned. He warned that such events will "lead to militarism, authoritarianism, and narrow-mindedness in this country," and he mentioned "the danger of fascism." "Organized military and supervisory interference in the elections has consequences beyond the violation of the rights of people who voted for me and the likes of me," he said, adding, "I declare that this is a threat to the people's choice and free elections."
Moin's main backers also expressed their disgruntlement. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization is one of the main pro-Moin parties, and central council member Seyyed Hashemi Hedayati said the presence of Basij personnel near the ballot boxes was alarming, ILNA reported. "Since a few days ago we have witnessed the systematic organization of the police and Basij and in such a situation we have the right to doubt the outcome of the presidential election," he added.
The Election Headquarters at the Iranian Interior Ministry announced the results on 18 June. None of the candidates secured the minimum of 50 percent-plus of the votes that are required to win outright. Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who secured 6,159,453 votes (about 21 percent), will face Ahmadinejad, who secured 5,710,354 votes (about 19.5 percent), in next week's runoff.
Then came former parliamentary speaker Mahdavi-Karrubi with 5,066,316 votes; former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf with 4,075,189 votes; and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Moin with 4,054,304 votes. Trailing far behind were former state radio and television chief Ali Larijani with 1,740,163 votes, and Vice-President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh with 1,289,323 votes.
The election results are not final until the Guardians Council announces them. Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 18 June that candidates have three days to lodge their complaints, Mehr news agency reported.
It is unlikely that Karrubi's entreaty or any other complaints will resonate with Supreme Leader Khamenei, who one day before the election urged Iranians to vote. An 18 June statement from Khamenei praised Iranians for their participation in the election, Mehr News Agency reported. This foiled enemy plots against Iran, he said. Referring to a 16 June White House statement that criticized the election process, Khamenei said, "You, the dear nation, you, the committed and enthusiastic youth, you, the faithful men and women, through your wise and epic presence, made [U.S. President George W.] Bush's insults backfire and showed your strong dedication to the country's independence, the defense of Islam, and Islamic democracy."
According to the Election Headquarters on 18 June, a total of 29,439,982 votes were cast in the election. There are 46,786,418 eligible voters, so this puts turnout at almost 63 percent. This turnout equals that of the 2001 election and surpasses that of the 1985, 1989, and 1993 elections, implying that calls for an election boycott fell on deaf ears.
Further breaking down the turnout figure, the election headquarters counted 29,317,042 correct ballots and another 1,221,940 spoiled ballots (approximately 4 percent). Casting spoiled or blank ballots is a traditional form of protest by individuals who are compelled to vote. Election-day photographs showed military personnel at polling places, and this suggests that voter intimidation could occur or the vote counting could be manipulated. In the absence of independent observers, however, it is impossible to determine whether fraud occurred. It is extremely unlikely that anything will come of the allegations of fraud, because nothing has come of previous allegations.
The more important issue now is to determine the outcome of the 24 June runoff. The pro-Moin Islamic Iran Participation Party announced on 18 June that it is undecided. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that supporters of the reformist candidates will back the hard-line Ahmadinejad. If turnout remains the same, then Hashemi-Rafsanjani will gain the 10,409,943 votes earned previously by Karrubi, Mehralizadeh, and Moin, giving him a total of 16,569,396. Ahmadinejad will presumably earn the 5,815,352 votes that went to Larijani and Qalibaf, for a total of 11,525,706.
It is extremely unlikely that overall turnout will remain flat. Voters who stayed home for the first round -- either out of apathy or because they were consciously boycotting the election -- might be inspired to vote in an effort to preclude Ahmadinejad's victory. This would ensure a Hashemi-Rafsanjani victory. On the other hand, the Guardians Council's apparent favoritism and interference by the Basij could make voter behavior irrelevant. (Bill Samii)
WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS ON IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. A 16 June statement from President George W. Bush noted the advance of freedom across the Middle East and predicted, "as a tide of freedom sweeps this region, it will also come eventually to Iran," Radio Farda reported (see also, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/06/20050616.html). It said Iran's rulers "suppress liberty at home and spread terror across the world." The 17 June presidential election is consistent with a pattern in which "power is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy." The statement said the United States backs Iran's territorial integrity and the Iranian people's right to determine their future. It concluded, "As you stand for your own liberty, the people of America stand with you."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told Al-Arabiyah television on 16 June that Bush's statement is not a serious one and ignores the realities of the country. Assefi accused the United States of having a double standard. "As you know, this is the election night," he added. "We will tomorrow know who will win and who will lose." Assefi predicted that the new president could have a major impact on Iran-U.S. relations, saying that he is important in determining foreign policy. "If the United States changes its policy," Assefi said, "we will certainly change our policy." He continued, "If the United States maintains its hostile policy toward Iran, then none of the [presidential] candidates will adopt a positive stand toward the United States, which speaks in an impolite manner."
Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 17 June, "I am actually happy that Bush made these comments because it will lead to more participation," Radio Farda reported. "Our people are a special nation, in defiance to the evil nature the enemies are showing, the [Iranian people] become more determined... A real democracy exists in Iran that can be a model for all countries. The Americans are very concerned...[that] an Islamic democracy also exists." (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS GET 'NONVIOLENT-CONFLICT' TRAINING. According to ft.com on 16 June, exiled Iranian oppositionists are being trained in nonviolent conflict by an organization based in the United States. The Washington-based International Center on Non-Violent Conflict is conducting the workshops. Persian-language copies of "Bringing Down a Dictator," a documentary about civil society organizations' success in overthrowing Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, were sent to Iran.
According to the center's website (http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org), "In a nonviolent conflict, disruptive actions such as strikes and boycotts are used by civilians, who are part of a movement struggling for rights or justice, to constrain and defeat their opponents." It listed petitions, parades, walkouts and mass demonstrations as means of mobilization. Resignations and civil disobedience can undermine government operations. It also described as "the weapons of nonviolent conflict" sit-ins, economic sabotage, and blockades. (Bill Samii)
RICE SAYS ELECTION NO HARBINGER OF REFORM. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the Iranian presidential race cannot be viewed in the same positive light as other recent political openings in the Middle East.
Rice told reporters on 16 June that Iran's political process is headed in the wrong direction. She said moves in the last two years by conservative-dominated bodies to remove moderates from the parliament and presidential candidate lists raised serious doubts.
"When you have a system in which somebody arbitrarily sits and handpicks who can run and who can not run it's a little hard to see that producing an outcome that is going to lead to improvement in the situation. We've always said that this is also an issue of the behavior of the Iranian government," Rice said.
Rice said U.S. officials would wait to see whether the Iranian elections lead to meaningful changes. She said Washington will be looking for a settlement of the dispute over its nuclear program, which the United States believes masks a weapons program. She also called for end to Iran's support of Hizballah in Lebanon and for positive behavior toward its neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Secretary of State spoke ahead of her trip on 17 June to U.S. allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. She will confer on antiterror efforts as well as press the Bush administration's pro-democracy agenda in the region.
The United States has faced criticism for not pressing its allies to adopt more sweeping political reforms. Rice said the United States would be looking for Egypt to follow through with plans for multiparty presidential polls. But she stressed that democracy is a process, "not a single-day event." (Robert McMahon)
CLERICS ENCOURAGE VOTERS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on 15 June that Iranians will "do their religious duty" and vote for a new president on 17 June, and "counter" the plans of "malevolent enemies" who have sought to deter them from voting, ISNA and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 15 June. He rejected "the claims of American and Zionist media" that Iranians are merely "learning democracy," and chided unnamed people in Iran who "try to give parties a role similar to parties in America and certain European countries," ISNA reported. Iran has a "real democracy," he said, while Western political parties "decide for the mass of people" through backstage "political and economic deal making," and expect electors to "blindly" vote for candidates they present to them, ISNA added. He said any electoral "bitterness" must end on voting day, and whoever is elected, "everyone must cooperate with him." The next president, he said, must forget "verbal quarrels," and work to resolve "the people's problems." Khamenei said he would "as always, follow up" presidential activities to ensure they meet public and state "expectations," ISNA reported.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani said on 16 June that it is necessary for people to participate in the election, state radio reported. Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani described voting as a religious obligation. Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said participation is a divine and national duty.
Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, a prominent pro-reform cleric and university lecturer, announced on 14 June that Iranians should vote, state television reported. He added that "The participation of the people in elections is effective and will have serious influence on the country's major and international policies."
Former Isfahan Prayer Leader Ayatollah Jalal Taheri has announced that he will vote and expressed the belief that the system can be reformed, "Eqbal" reported on 13 June. A commentary in the 13 June "Resalat," a hard-line daily, asserted that Taheri met with center-left candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and reformist candidate Mustafa Moin's running mate, Mohammad-Reza Khatami. Taheri subsequently said he supports Karrubi and Moin, and the commentary criticized him for supporting Moin.
Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri said during an 11 June meeting with nationalist-religious activists in Qom, "I have never boycotted elections and, on the whole, I believe that voting or not voting is a personal decision." He expressed support for the democracy and human rights front that is backing Moin, "Etemad" reported on 12 June.
Noted Islamic intellectual Abdolkarim Sorush has not endorsed any of the candidates in the Iranian presidential election, the head of his office, Javad Dabbagh, said on 15 June according to IRNA. "Etemad" reported the same day that Sorush described Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi as the best choice because Moin would face the same fate as Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)
MILITARY PREPARES FOR ITS ELECTION ROLE. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps spokesman Masud Jazayeri announced on 13 June that the majority of the force's personnel will vote in the 17 June presidential election, Fars News Agency reported. "The vast majority of Guards Corps personnel and Basijis [members of the Basij Resistance Force] understand their civic responsibilities, which emanate from the lofty values of Islam and the revolution," he said. "Thus they will participate in the elections with all their might and they will vote for the best candidate." Jazayeri dismissed speculation about military interference in the election process. He added that the Basij will do its utmost to ensure the fairness of the election.
General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij, said his personnel will try to increase the number of people voting, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 12 June. Hejazi went on to say that Basijis may serve as election officers in polling stations.
Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Guards Corps, told Basij personnel in an undisclosed location what kind of presidential candidate they should elect, "Kayhan" reported on 13 June.
Mujtaba Reshad, who heads the election headquarters, announced in a circular to all the country's governors that they should immediately report violations of election regulations by military personnel, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 16 June. Reshad listed the regular armed forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij. He added that the ban on election interference also applies to police personnel. Mohammad Atrianfar, a leader in the Hashemi-Rafsanjani campaign, told Radio Farda on 16 June that military personnel supporting the candidacy of former Guards Corps air force commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad are behind the vandalism of the candidate's publicity materials.
Military involvement in the election process is worrying the candidates. Reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin told the 15 June issue of "The Guardian" that he would consider quitting the presidential race if sporadic violence against his supporters continues. He said violent attacks by unidentified thugs, as well as a recent string of bombings, may be part of calculated moves designed to discourage Iranians from voting or make them vote for a candidate with a military background, guardian.co.uk reported. "If they create tense circumstances," he said, people might think of voting for a "military candidate" to ensure "peace and stability." A prominent liberal politician and Moin supporter, Ibrahim Yazdi, was beaten up in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, on 11 June, "The Guardian" added.
In a letter this week to Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, Hashemi-Rafsanjani's campaign headquarters complained about the interference of military personnel in the election process, Radio Farda reported on 14 June. The Interior Minister, in turn, met with Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi and asked him to prevent this.
Musavi-Lari told the press on 15 June that violent incidents in the elections "are the work of those who cannot tolerate other people's views, but fortunately they are not frequent," ISNA reported the same day. "Yesterday evening [14 June] we had another incident in Kerman," in southeastern Iran, he said, without elaborating. He added that the police and judiciary are cooperating well to deal with the incidents.
The same day, President Mohammad Khatami instructed the interior and intelligence ministers in a letter to deal with an "organized movement" trying to undermine the electoral process by "disrupting meetings, beating individuals, distributing pamphlets, and spreading lies to basely discredit respectable personalities" and candidates, ISNA reported. Khatami added that such attempts including "sinister terrorist acts" will not "weaken the resolve" of Iranians to vote, ISNA reported.
Musavi-Lari agreed that those responsible for the recent bombings "were looking to the elections," and trying "to create fear," ISNA reported. He estimated that "more than 55 percent" of eligible voters will vote, and the election will need two rounds. The "information we have received" indicates that no candidate can expect more than 50 percent of the vote, he said. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)
SECURITY PROBLEMS IN TEHRAN AHEAD OF ELECTION. Police dispersed on 16 June about 300 people who were participating in an unlicensed rally in Tehran's Mellat Park, ILNA reported. Some of the demonstrators, who were chanting against the election and the regime, were arrested. Some 5,000 police officers patrolled Tehran the day before the presidential election, police commander Morteza Talai said on 16 June, IRNA reported. On election day, 17 June, 20,000 police will guarantee security, he said.
Policemen beat and arrested demonstrators gathered on 15 June outside a Tehran prison in sympathy with detained dissidents, Radio Farda reported the same day. The demonstrators, including rights activists and families of detainees, were holding a sit-in outside Evin prison to protest the detention conditions of Nasser Zarafshan, currently on the ninth day of a hunger strike. His wife, Homa Zarafshan, told Radio Farda that uniformed policemen temporarily arrested an unspecified number of protesters, violently beating those who resisted.
Masumeh Shafii, the wife of another detained dissident, Akbar Ganji, witnessed the violence as she sought in vain to enter Evin to see her husband, who she says is also on a hunger strike. She said Ganji is currently in solitary confinement and is not allowed to receive visits or see a lawyer, Radio Farda reported. She has written to the judiciary chief asking him to send a team to check on her husband's condition. "These gentlemen want these matters to be kept quiet now, with all the election news, and silence over the state of those on hunger strike will worsen their condition every hour," she said.
Two bombs exploded in Tehran near the Imam Hussein Square on the evening of 12 June, killing at least two people, the IRNA reported. Later that evening, there was an explosion on Taleqani Street, but there were no casualties, IRNA reported. In yet another incident, a stun grenade went off in front of an unnamed cleric's house.
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 13 June that the explosion of a garbage can at the Imam Hussein Mosque may have been an "accident," IRNA reported.
A man identified as Ahmadvand and referred to as the military-political director of the Tehran Governor-General's Office said on 13 June that the investigation of the Tehran bombings is continuing, Fars News Agency reported. He added, "No individual or group has taken responsibility for last night's bombings. No one has been arrested with respect to the Tehran explosions either." He advised against jumping to conclusions about the guilty parties, saying, "We should not analyze or judge the recent Tehran and Ahvaz incidents hastily."
Fars News Agency reported on 13 June that after the previous day's bombings there were many hoax bomb threats to government agencies and public services such as the Tehran metro, Fars News Agency reported. As a result, bus and metro service was disrupted and the residents of one residential building were forced to evacuate.
The Pounak Square shopping center in northwest Tehran was evacuated on 15 June because of a bomb threat, IRNA reported. The police bomb squad did not find a bomb. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)
WOMEN CALL FOR RIGHTS AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Technically, all that's preventing Iranian women from running in the country's presidential elections is the interpretation of a single word.
"Rejal," which comes from Arabic, means "personalities." Iran's constitution says the president should be elected from among "religious and political personalities."
Many argue that "rejal" also includes women. But Iran's Guardian Council, which has the authority to interpret the constitution, says the word refers exclusively to men.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi told Radio Farda that the interpretation deprives women of their right: "Unfortunately, according to the Guardian Council's interpretation, the world 'rejal' is only limited to men; therefore, women are deprived (of the right) of being elected. This is one of the major problems of Iran's presidential elections: half of Iran's population is deprived of a social right."
During the campaign leading up to the 17 June vote, 89 women defied a ban and registered to run for president. But all were rejected on the basis of gender, including a conservative member of parliament and the daughter of a prominent cleric.
Women's groups and activists reacted by staging a protest on 2 June. The protesters said that "when women, half of the country's population, cannot be elected as president, they should not be expected to participate in the elections vastly either."
Fariba Davudi- Mohajer, a journalist, was among the protesters in Tehran: "After women registered, Mr. Jahromi, a Guardian Council deputy, said in an interview that since women lack the necessary understanding and discernment, we cannot get them involved in important state affairs. The question that came to our mind was: how come women were good when they were sending their children to the fronts; women are good enough to vote for these gentlemen; but when it comes to being elected, they lack understanding and competency? When they don't recognize our identity, we don't recognize them either."
An Iranian website devoted to women's issues (www.womeniniran.org) recently published a list of women presidents around the world. It says: "This list includes women who as president have served their people in many countries. Why should Iran be an exception?"
Women played a major role in the election of President Mohammad Khatami, who had promised more rights for women. During the current presidential campaign, most candidates have expressed support for women's rights. But there is concern that the promises of more rights and equal opportunities will be forgotten soon after the polls.
Several prominent women, including Shirin Ebadi and Simin Behbahani, whom many consider Iran's greatest living poet, have said they will not vote.
Davudi-Mohajer, who has also decided to stay away from the polls, says many women activists have decided not to endorse any of the candidates: "We came to the conclusion that we will not have a stance toward any of the candidates. We have announced our demands for years through the press, media and websites. Because of that you can see that all of them have an advisor on women's issues, they have appointed women as their spokespeople, and that's because of the social pressure created by the women's movement. It has forced them to become sensitive regarding women's demands."
Women's demands are not limited to their right of being allowed to stand in the country's presidential elections.
Women know that any president -- regardless of gender -- can do little to change their status in a country whose laws discriminate against women. Women need the permission of their father or husband to travel. A woman's testimony in court is considered to be half the value of a man's. Women's divorce rights are not equal to those of men.
So activists are calling for a change in the country's constitution, which they say does not ensure equal rights for women.
Davudi-Mohajer: "For example, Article 19 of the constitution says that all people of Iran are equal regarding their color, ethnicity and language. But it doesn't say that the people of Iran are equal regarding their gender. In fact, we can come to a logical conclusion that in Iran's constitution, women and men are not equal. We think that the reform of the constitution can bring structural changes."
On June 12, up to 1,000 women and men staged a protest in front of Tehran's university. They chanted slogans in favor of women's rights and called for the country's laws to be changed to conform to international human rights agreements.
Women's rights advocates have said they will continue their peaceful protests until their demands are met. (Golnaz Esfandiari, Nazi Azima)
(Originally published on 14 June 2005.)
EXCESS OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WORRIED HARD-LINERS. With just days to go before Iran's ninth presidential election, two factors promised to have a profound effect on the final result. First of all, out of some 46 million eligible voters, how many people will turnout on 17 June? And second, will any of the hard-line candidates withdraw from the race? This first issue may not worry the hard-liners much, but the relatively high number of hard-line candidates in the race -- four out of eight -- undermined their chance of achieving a clear-cut victory.
Polls And Popularity
Early polls indicated there would be a low turnout on election day. Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani on 24 April cited a survey that said some 42 to 51 percent of the Iranian public planned to vote, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. There are several reasons for this lack of interest. Elected officials' inability to achieve results has led to general apathy, and since 1997 this has resulted in falling voter participation figures. Furthermore, some student groups and political activists have called for an election boycott (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 June 2005).
Several Iranians told state television on 14 June why they would not vote. A young woman said, "It is obvious who will win," and a young man said, "It is clear from the beginning to the end." A middle-aged man said, "My vote doesn't count."
Two more recent surveys painted a brighter picture. A poll of 46,034 people in 25 provinces conducted by IRNA found that 54.8 percent of eligible voters will definitely vote and another 15.5 percent say they will "almost certainly vote," state radio reported on 11 June. In a late-May survey commissioned by the Fars News Agency and conducted by an unidentified polling service, 68 percent of the respondents confirmed that they would vote and another 16.3 percent said they probably would vote, "Kayhan" reported on 6 June.
The regime can use a high turnout figure as a sign of its legitimacy and an indication of public support for the system. Low turnout would benefit the hard-liners, whose supporters are more easily mobilized. High turnout, on the other hand, could yield a surprise, as it did in 1997, when more than 80 percent of the electorate voted and a reformist dark-horse won the race.
Too Many Candidates
The bigger concern for the hard-liners is that they have too many horses in the race. Out of eight candidates, four are firmly in the hard-line camp and are referred to as principle-ists (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 (1989-1997) Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, can be considered a center-right candidate, but he is insufficiently conservative for most hard-line activists.
For any candidate to win outright, he 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 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2005). Coming in behind him have been Qalibaf and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin, who is a reformist.
In the most recently reported survey (14 June), which was commissioned by Fars News Agency, the majority of the 16,751 respondents said they backed Hashemi-Rafsanjani (22.27 percent). Following the front-runner were Qalibaf (20.08 percent), Ahmadinejad (15.53 percent), Moin (10 percent), Karrubi (7.87 percent), Larijani (7.49 percent), Mehralizadeh (2.83 percent), and Rezai (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 (on conservative differences, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March and 9 May 2005). 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. Only the candidates would participate in this meeting, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 12 June.
The "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 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.
One day later, "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.
Former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Rezai insisted that he would 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. On 15 June, however, he announced his withdrawal. Mamessani parliamentary representative Ali Ahmadi, who is the spokesman for Rezai's campaign headquarters explained the withdrawal, ILNA reported on 16 June. Ahmadi said, "Rezai cited the current situation in the country, desire to prevent dispersion of the public vote and requests by some of the sources of emulation as reasons for his decision to quit the presidential race." Ahmadi said Rezai was not withdrawing in favor of one of the other candidates, explaining, "Rezai believed that there was no-one with a consolidated program for administering the country in the long-run and he therefore did not withdraw in the interest of any particular candidate."
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 the "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. He urged them to choose a candidate. And 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 no single candidate. He continued, "if the four fundamentalist candidates withdraw from their candidacy in favor of one from among themselves, 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 principle-ists 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 runoff, "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 easy 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 Iranian's sentiments towards their political system and a measure of their hopes for the future. (Bill Samii)
(Originally published on 15 June 2005.)
CENTER-LEFT CLERIC GETS ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT. The Democracy Party (Hezb-i Mardom Salari) has endorsed the candidacy of Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, the Fars News Agency reported on 13 June, citing a statement from the party. The Guardians Council rejected Democracy Party Secretary-General Mustafa Kavakebian's application to be a candidate. The 14-party Front for Consolidation of Democracy also backed Kavakebian, and it announced that it does not advocate an election boycott despite his rejection, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 June. The Democracy Party called on the Guardians Council to explain the disqualification of its secretary-general and other candidates, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 29 May. The party explained its decision to participate in the election "as a principled solution and belief that quitting the arena, political passivity, and lack of political involvement by a political current and a party has never been agreeable, and at this juncture will only serve to benefit the conservative faction." (Bill Samii)
PROFILE: THE MAN BEHIND MOIN. Former Minister of Science Research and Technology Mustafa Moin's placing in recent surveys on the Iranian presidential election scheduled for 17 June is improving, although he usually trails behind Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. As Moin was initially disqualified by the Guardians Council and reinstated only after the Supreme Leader issued a decree to this effect, it is a bit surprising that he is doing so well. Some of his success is almost certainly due to the role played in his campaign by reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian, the man behind reformist dominance of the sixth parliament (2000-04).
Hajjarian served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in the 1980s, and he later headed the political bureau of the executive branch's Strategic Research Center. He served as publisher of the "Sobh-i Imruz" daily. In Iran's first municipal council elections in 1999, he was elected in Tehran. In March 2000 Hajjarian was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt by individuals connected with the Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group. He now walks with difficulty and is rarely in the limelight. However, Hajjarian has continued his activities with the Islamic Iran Participation Party, which is backing Moin's candidacy.
Hajjarian's early reaction to the election and to Moin's candidacy was hardly enthusiastic. He said in late May that turnout will not surpass 45 percent, and Moin only has a 9 percent chance ("Iran Daily," 22 May 2005). But soon thereafter Hajjarian began encouraging voters and backing Moin.
Many student activists have called for an election boycott, and some urged Moin not to remain in the presidential race after his reinstatement. At a late-May meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization that Hajjarian attended, he encouraged their participation and told the audience that reform requires pressure from the top and from the bottom. However, the majority of the student activists felt that Moin should not compete in the election ("Eqbal," 28 May 2005).
A number of other reformist activists met in late-May to discuss whether or not Moin should stay in the race ("Aftab-i Yazd," "Eqbal," "Etemad," and "Mardom Salari," 28 May 2005). Participants in the meeting included Behzad Nabavi of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, who recommended participation in the election. Mohammad Reza Khatami of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, who would go on to become Moin's running mate, said even in the current restrictive electoral environment an opportunity like this would contribute to democratization.
But it was Hajjarian who made the biggest impression. He entered the hall in casual clothing, saying that he is dressed this way because he is on the way to medical treatment and adding that he does not feel the need to dress formally when he meets with his friends. His speech was interrupted frequently with cheers and applause. Some of the other audience members referred to Hajjarian as a "victim in the path of reform." Even though Moin is a candidate because of the supreme leader's decree, he said, we must remember that we are reformers. "The difference between reformers and revolutionaries is that reformers make use of even limited opportunities for advancing their goals," he added. Hajjarian went on to say that there should be another reform movement, even if this requires shedding blood.
In early June state television began broadcasting campaign films made by the candidates. Hajjarian had a leading role in Moin's film, which was shown on the evening of 9 June. The film consisted of a fast-paced interview between Moin and a wheelchair-bound Hajjarian, and it was clear that Hajjarian spoke with difficulty and could not move his hands easily.
Moin emphasized that he intends to continue the reform movement that began eight years earlier with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's election. Asked about the relationship between his proposed reforms and those pursued by the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front, Moin responded: "I think the reforms are still alive, and therefore, I will follow that path. I will stand on the shoulders of the previous reforms and will look, from a higher platform, towards the future." Moin also addressed young people -- "living a crisis," "many questions but no answers" -- and women -- "in our country, the rights of women have been violated because religion has been interpreted wrongly."
Exile journalist Masud Behnud wrote afterwards, "It was the first time the ruling current has allowed the people to see Hajjarian through the porthole of the so-called national media" ("Eqbal," 14 June 2005).
Hajjarian continued his efforts on the candidate's behalf. He said at a conference on the election late last week, "A ballot paper is ... the nation's blood that is dropped in the ballot boxes." He and other speakers at the conference urged the public to vote ("Etemad," 11 June 2005).
Iranian newspapers are prohibited from publishing any news articles, analyses, op-eds, photographs, or advertisements relating to the campaign on 16 June, the day before the election. This will give members of the public time to consider whether or not they will actually vote and they will vote for. If turnout is sufficiently high, Moin has a good chance of being the runner-up, on the basis of survey data that is currently available. He will owe much of his success to Hajjarian's efforts on his behalf. (Bill Samii)
IRREDENTISTS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAN BOMBINGS. Three Arab irredentist groups have taken credit for a series of 12 June bombings in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern Khuzestan Province, ISNA reported on 13 June. The groups are the Arab Martyrs of Khuzestan, the Arab People's Democratic Front, and Afwaj al-Nahdah al-Musallahah Al-Ahwaz (The Armed Renaissance Group of Ahvaz), according to Deputy Governor Rahim Fazilatpur.
Mahmud Ahmad, coordinator of committees of the Democratic Front for the Ahvaz People, denied responsibility for the 12 June bombings, Al-Jazeera satellite TV reported on 12 June. He added, "Certainly the regime knows well that nobody supports it in Ahvaz. It has no supporters, neither in Ahvaz nor in any area where non-Persian ethnic groups live in Iran."
The four explosions in Ahvaz occurred within 20 minutes of each other, news agencies reported. All the Ahvaz explosions targeted government facilities or officials. Interior Ministry official Mohammad Hussein Motahar said, "Two bombs were hidden in toilets within the building of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and at the Office of Construction and Civil Engineering. The third bomb exploded in front of the house of the governor of Khuzestan Province. All three of these explosions were in the city center of Ahvaz. Another bomb was hidden in the doorway of the house of a [state] radio and television official in Ahvaz. The bomb went off when the door was opened," Radio Farda reported, citing state television. State television reported that the bombings killed at least eight people and injured another 70.
The Interior Ministry's Motahar connected the bombings with the unrest that occurred in Khuzestan in mid-April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 and 25 April 2005).
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi announced on 13 June in Tehran that security forces have tracked down the individuals responsible for the previous day's bombings, IRNA reported. He said there have been some arrests. He described the Ahvaz bombings as terrorist acts, and he said all of the "terrorists" are under control and that they cannot undermine the presidential election.
Also on 13 June, an anonymous judiciary spokesman said six people were arrested, state television reported.
Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 12 June that counterrevolutionaries are behind the bombings in Ahvaz, the Mehr News Agency reported. Referring to the explosion of a stun grenade in Qom a few days earlier, he said, "After the explosion in Qom a few days ago it became clear that several counterrevolutionary groups in Iraq had been dispatched to Iran from the region where the Americans and the British are deployed; some of these terrorists have been arrested."
The Party of the Arab Al-Ahwazi Movement (aka Hizba al-Nahdah al-Arabi al-Ahwazi) has taken credit for the 12 June bombings in Ahvaz, the British Ahwazi Friendship Society website (ahwaz.org.uk) reported on 13 June.
However, British Ahwazi Friendship Society spokesman Nasser Ban-Assad dismissed on 13 June the ability of a small organization to carry out such an attack, ahwaz.org.uk reported. Instead, Ban-Assad said, the Iranian military set up the blasts in order to justify a preelection crackdown and the suppression of Arabs. He dismissed the possibility that the United States or United Kingdom would assist any Arab irredentists militarily. He added that it is unlikely that the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian opposition organization based in Iraq, is behind the attacks. Ban-Assad referred dismissively to claims of responsibility for similar attacks in the past made by the Ahvaz Arab Renaissance Party after similar incidents in Iran in the past.
Sabah al-Musawi, who heads the Ahvaz Arab Renaissance Party's political bureau, said on 12 June that the bombings have nothing to do with the election, Al-Jazeera reported. Nevertheless, he called for an election boycott. Responding to the interviewer's question about civilian deaths in the bombings, Musawi said, "These people came from outside Ahvaz. These are settlers.... They came to Ahvaz and they must bear the consequences. The regime must bear its responsibilities towards the people it brought as settlers to Ahvaz." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN-BAGHDAD FLIGHTS IN THE WORKS. Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki announced in the Iranian city of Ilam on 14 June that Tehran-Baghdad flights will resume within two months, IRNA reported. Direct passenger flights between the two countries have not taken place for two decades. (Bill Samii)
IRAN TO CONTRIBUTE $180 MILLION TO HYDROPOWER PROJECT IN TAJIKISTAN. At a meeting in Dushanbe on 15 June, President Imomali Rakhmonov and Ebrahim Sheibani, who heads the Iranian Central Bank, discussed an agreement between Iran and Tajikistan to construct the Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant in Tajikistan, Khovar reported. Under an agreement that energy ministers from the two countries signed in Tehran on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2005), Iran will contribute $180 million and Tajikistan $40 million. Work on the project, which is slated to take four years, will begin this summer. (Daniel Kimmage)