October 16, 2008


Searching for the Antidote to Ahmadinejad : In Tehran, reformers and conservatives are preparing to fight for the Iranian presidency in 2009. The opposition is pinning its hopes, once again, on former President Mohammad Khatami. But will he run? (Dieter Bednarz, 10/16/08, Der Spiegel)

The religious scholar will need backing, including backing from within the highest circles, if he is to submit to the wishes of his many supporters and run for president, once again, in elections next June. Although elections in the Iranian theocracy have never been clean by democratic standards, political observers in Tehran fear that "the next election campaign will be dirtier than all others." Khatami's successor in the office, the zealot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is determined to defend his power. For reformers and conservatives alike, the next election will be an all-or-nothing vote.

One question Iranians have asked themselves is whether Khatami -- who left the presidency, by law, in 2005, after two consecutive terms -- can breathe new life into a more or less defunct reform movement, as his supporters hope. Or will the re-election of President Ahmadinejad isolate the country even further, thereby ruining the reputation of the conservatives once and for all, as critics within their own ranks fear?

When it comes to the upcoming election, the one certainty is that reformers and conservatives have both lost a great deal of support within the population. The conservatives are seen as braggarts who have failed to fulfill rosy promises of affluence, even for the poor. The reformers, on the other hand, whose rise to power began in 1997 with the landslide election victory of then-newcomer Khatami, are considered spin doctors whose promises have routinely foundered on vetoes by the arch-conservative Guardian Council, or religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Nevertheless, even a declared realist like Mohammed Atrianfar, 55, is confident that the reformers can regain their former popularity. Atrianfar, who wears a salt-and-pepper beard, is the editor-in-chief of the weekly political magazine Sharwand-e Emrus (Citizens of Today), one of Iran's relatively critical publications.

In the 2005 presidential campaign Atrianfar was an advisor to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, supposedly the clear favorite in that election. After two previous terms in office, and a mandatory interim period required under Iran's constitution, Rafsanjani -- probably the country's richest man -- had decided to try for a third term. But many citizens unwilling to vote for an oligarch like Rafsanjani opted not to vote at all. Ahmadinejad was elected on a tide of right-wing populism.

This time around, Atrianfar believes it will be easy to mobilize students and the middle class to support Khatami. Hardly anyone questions his personal integrity.

It'd be helpful--even if only at the margins--for the U.S. not to encourage Reformists to boycott the election again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2008 7:26 AM
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