June 15, 2005

LATENT POWER:

Iran politicians woo the young: Presidential hopefuls reach out with music and rallies before Friday's vote to sway the under-30 majority. (Scott Peterson, 6/16/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Tapping into that widespread discontent, some youth leaders and prominent dissidents are calling for an election boycott, describing the reform project as a "failure" that proves the Islamic Republic can't be changed from within.

But the cheering, sometimes tearful, young supporters of Mr. Moin and other candidates - these days, a distinct minority who say they will vote - make clear that a strain of youth politics persists. And every campaign is targeting young people, recognizing the latent political power in the hands of the majority under 30 years old, who can vote from the age of 15.

"We are here for democracy, and Moin is just a tool to take us there," says Mohsen Pahlavizadeh, a student whose thick stubble and narrow face is the very image of a hard-line militiaman.

"We had many revolutions, and we don't want any more," says Mr. Pahlavadeh, referring to the violent revolution of 1979 that brought clerical rule to Iran. "We don't want any more violence. We want change from within."

"We want to continue the way of Khatami," adds Hamid Baharlou, another student with a headband painted with the party slogan: 'Again we make our country.' "But we want it to be more strong, and more precise."

Polls show that Moin is gaining ground on front-runner Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which could lead to a second-round runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.

To reach that threshold and boost his credentials with youths, Mr. Rafsanjani, a two-time former president, has even created a TV segment that shows him in a panel discussion with young people.

The septuagenarian cracks a joke about nudity, and says that people should follow their taste in clothes, according to reports. "In the Islam I know ... no one would feel limited in their instincts," said Rafsanjani, a supporter of the Shiite practice of temporary marriage.

The cleric drew laughs when he admitted to "doing things as a young man that I would not confess to."


Forget the boycott. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei handed them an opportunity when he forced the Guardian Council to let Moin run--carpe diem.


MORE:
The Vote That Roared: In Iran’s surprisingly competitive election, the contest may be more important than the outcome. (Hadi Semati, June 2005, Foreign Policy)

[T]he upcoming presidential contest is producing surprises for even the most informed readers of Iranian politics. And, in the last few weeks, it appears that Iranian voters are tuning in as well.

For starters, cracks are appearing in the conservative establishment. The powerful Guardian Council misread the public mood when it disqualified reformist candidate Mostafa Moin, the former minister of higher education and a favorite of the intelligentsia and students. Facing public outrage, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei demanded that the Guardian Council approve Moin’s candidacy. His reappearance has energized the campaign and sparked a round of alliance building and elbow throwing. [...]

Rafsanjani, a self-styled pragmatic conservative, has given himself a modest makeover to accommodate a changing Iranian society and popular pressure for political openness and greater participation in the global community. More than any other candidate, his campaign plays up his resolve to tackle the tough foreign-policy issues that Iran faces, particularly tension with the Bush administration. In recent interviews and speeches, Rafsanjani has suggested he is ready to reach out to Washington—if he is extended a hand. He emphasizes respect for individual liberty and the sanctity of the private sphere in both foreign and domestic policies.

For his part, Moin focuses on political reform as the key to Iranian domestic and foreign policy. His campaign agenda includes a grandiose set of policies that are more aspirational than practical. During the race, he has radicalized significantly and has broken taboos on every front, including outright criticism of the conservative establishment. On foreign policy, he proposes the continuation of Khatami’s overall approach, but with more determination, resolve, and transparency to build trust between Iran and international community.

A reformist or a Rafsanjani victory would mark a hawkish shift and a deterioration of Iranian policy on key issues—U.S.–Iran relations, the Arab–Israeli peace process, and the nuclear program—less likely. But it is still doubtful, given the consensus-driven foreign-policy machinery of the Islamic Republic, that the election will produce a significant change in direction. Nevertheless, a victory for either Rafsanjani or Moin could give Washington an excuse to take a fresh look at Iran, which may be more receptive to dialogue than ever before.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 15, 2005 8:57 PM
Comments

Who is Moin?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 15, 2005 9:39 PM

You did know that the "Shi'ite practice of temporary marriage" is just thinly veiled prostitution, right?

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller at June 15, 2005 10:04 PM

Anthony:

Yes, it's quite traditional.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2005 10:17 PM

I still want to know who Moin is?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 15, 2005 10:19 PM
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