June 19, 2005


Rafsanjani, greying septuagenarian, positions himself as the 'new voice of Iranian youth' (Colin Freeman, 19/06/2005, Daily Telegraph)

In one of the most audacious bids ever to capture a "youth" vote, the conservative Islamic revolutionary rebranded himself for Iran's bitterly-fought presidential election last Friday as a champion of the young, using a Western-style marketing campaign that owed more to Nike than the Koran.

Not only did the 70-year-old former president open a campaign office on Fereshteh's sunset strip, he also hired an army of hip, happening underlings to spread his message across the capital.

With half of Iran's 47 million eligible voters under the age of 25, none of the seven presidential candidates could afford to ignore their power.

Thanks to work by Mr Rafsanjani's supporters in recent weeks, his campaign stickers can be seen all over Teheran, wrapped around lamp-posts and plastered on pavements, cars and motorbikes, even adorning the headscarves of attractive young women.

Leading up to Friday's polls, crowds of young supporters held "spontaneous" rallies in his honour, and celebrated Iran's recent qualifying victory in football's World Cup by chanting his name.

Which, incidentally, is no longer "Mr Rafsanjani", "His Holiness', or "His Excellency". Instead, he now styles himself simply as "Hashemi" - his middle name, and a form of address usually reserved for intimate acquaintances.

Were Michael Howard to campaign as "Mick", cynical western youngsters would laugh him off the stump. In Iran's theocratic regime, however, the elderly, turbaned cleric hoped to make the young electorate, worried about Iran's shaky economy, with unemployment at 11 per cent and rising, and strained relations with the rest of the world, feel empowered rather than patronised.

As the election results came in yesterday, the signs were that the strategy of running on a liberal ticket, presenting himself as a steady leader in uneasy times, was working for Mr Rafsanjani.

He narrowly clinched top spot in the poll and must now contest an unprecedented two-man presidential "run-off" vote next Friday. To widespread amazement in Iran, his opponent will be the unfancied Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Teheran and a staunch backer of the hardline religious leadership. Mr Ahmadinejad, whose success was such a shock that he had no podium from which to address his victorious campaign supporters, appeared to have won the votes of Iran's pious poor.

Having shot themselves in the foot--with an assist from George Bush--the reformers have to rally behind Hashemi.

Iran Reformers Weigh Options for Runoff Vote: With no presidential candidate of their own on the ballot, they can boycott, or back a centrist ex-leader whose record they criticize. (John Daniszewski, June 20, 2005, LA Times)

Iran's reformers considered Sunday how to respond to the strong showing of this city's conservative mayor in the first round of presidential voting, debating whether to boycott the runoff or unite behind an establishment candidate whom many of them dislike or distrust.

One human rights activist warned that the limited freedoms obtained in Iran during the last eight years were threatened unless reformers and the rest of society united behind ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani to keep Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from winning Friday's scheduled presidential runoff. [...]

By late Sunday, some reformists were moving toward Rafsanjani despite their previous differences. Two reform groups, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, called on followers to vote for Rafsanjani to head off a hard-line presidency.

"The country faces a danger of direct involvement by military parties," the Participation Front said in a statement quoted by Reuters. [...]

Emad Baghi, an ex-political prisoner and director of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, said he was breaking his silence on political matters to underscore what he saw as an urgent threat caused by the reform movement's weak showing. He told reporters that the success of Ahmadinejad represented a serious bid for power by a fundamentalist wing based in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and pro-government militias known as the Basijis, who are notorious for beating up pro-democracy activists.

At a news conference held for foreign and Iranian journalists Sunday, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi boasted about the "very large and exciting" election and the reported turnout of 29 million people, or 62% of voters. The final tally announced Saturday night showed Rafsanjani finishing with 21%, or about 6.2 million votes. Ahmadinejad had 19.5%, or 5.7 million. Kharrazi said sardonically that the remarks of President Bush, who had sharply criticized Iran's electoral system last week on the eve of voting, had actually galvanized voters.

"This proves that Americans are not good politicians and not good forecasters of events," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2005 10:54 PM

Rafsanjani--utterly corrupt. http://www.iranexpert.com/2004/rafsanjani21april.htm

Posted by: Elly at June 20, 2005 4:14 AM

Let's see if Iranians take to the streets a la the Lebanese. If not, it'll be the final proof anyone (except oj, who seems to have gone delusional on this issue) should need that there will never be a revolution against the mullahs and we need to steel ourselves to the certainty that we'll need to use military force to stop their nuke program.

Posted by: b at June 20, 2005 10:22 AM

They don't need a revolution, just evolution.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2005 10:26 AM

Removing the mullahs would be such a profound change it'd be akin to speciation. You don't believe in that, remember?

Posted by: b at June 20, 2005 10:39 AM


Yes, I do believe that we evolve via such intelligent steps.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2005 10:52 AM

Fine. And since the Iranian people aren't up to it, we'll have to supply the intelligence...

Posted by: b at June 20, 2005 11:11 AM

If Bush hadn't said a word, it would still have been a rigged election to a position with no power to push for reform.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 20, 2005 11:16 AM

Yes, but a Moin/Radsanfani choice was a win-win.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2005 12:09 PM

Symbolically, but they wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything. Maybe that would energize the reform movement, but maybe it would demoralize it. Also, we can't assume that the announced vote totals are accurate. Finally, Moin can either lead the reform movement from the street, or show himself to only want reform within the context of the current system, which is meaningless.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 20, 2005 1:04 PM

They don't need to accomplish much--it's an increasingly liberal society and bringing them into the WTO will only hasten the pace.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2005 1:09 PM

One nice thing about being right beforehand is that, unlike Orrin, I don't have to explain away the results.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 21, 2005 7:16 PM

The results were as predicted. The Reformists were mistaken to call for a boycott.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2005 7:19 PM