June 11, 2009


In Iran Race, Ex-Leader Works to Oust President (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/11/09, NY Times)

In a makeshift campaign war room in north Tehran, two dozen young women clad in head scarves and black chadors are logging election data into desktop computers 24 hours a day, while men rush around them carrying voter surveys and district maps.

This nerve center in the campaign to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hard-line president, is not run by any of the three candidates who are challenging him in a hotly contested election on Friday.

Instead, it is part of a bitter behind-the-scenes rivalry that has helped define the campaign, pitting Mr. Ahmadinejad against the man he beat in the last election, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president and one of Iran’s richest and most powerful men. [...]

Mr. Rafsanjani is striking back, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad of undermining the state itself. His letter casts Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election broadsides — aimed at several figures who were close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revolution — as an attack on the country’s senior political class and therefore on the legitimacy of the entire system.

“If the system cannot or does not want to confront such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies, and false allegations made in that debate, how can we consider ourselves followers of the sacred Islamic system?” Mr. Rafsanjani wrote.

The bitter exchanges have underscored the surprising vigor of Iran’s limited democracy. The country’s theocratic rulers weed out all but a few ideologically acceptable candidates before each election. But within those confines, the races are hard-fought and unpredictable.

Iran blossoms in this campaign season: The race for the presidency has opened up public and political spaces into which Iranians, especially the young, have flowed with enthusiasm. One street rally turns into a disco. (Borzou Daragahi, June 11, 2009, LA Times)
These are strange, magical days in Iran, where a landmark presidential race pitting Ahmadinejad against Mousavi and two other challengers has opened up the country's political and public spaces to an extent not seen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Students have called the president a liar to his face. Carnival-like demonstrations erupt on the streets. Ordinary people engage in lively political debates with strangers on street corners.

In big cities such as Esfahan and Tehran, caravans of motorcyclists stream down roadways nightly, sometimes with two people riding pillion. With one hand clutching each other for dear life, they hold up the green balloons and banners of the Mousavi campaign or the red, white and green Iranian flag, which has become the symbol of the Ahmadinejad campaign, as they roar past.

In the countryside, campaign posters plaster walls in sleepy, ancient mud-brick enclaves far from the main highways, where women in all-covering black chadors sweep past stark golden desert landscapes.

Shopkeepers, farmers and retirees hold impromptu debates, disagreeing amicably with one another, over the country's problems and talking about its leaders -- in years past almost all would have been turbaned clerics above reproach -- as if they were athletes battling it out on the sports field.

It's been a thrilling ride, with impromptu rallies sprouting in town and city squares alike. But beneath the good-spirited fun, there is an undercurrent of danger, highlighted by the walkie-talkie-toting plainclothes security officials hovering around the crowds and the nasty bare-knuckled chants that the rival groups hurl at each other.

In addition to revealing the repressed swell of youthful energy, the election season has laid bare Iran's many divisions: between rural and urban; religious and secular; working-class and educated; old and young; those for whom the outside world remains a threat to their way of life and those who look outside Iran for ideas and opportunities.

Iran tends to loosen up during quadrennial presidential and parliamentary elections. The debates get a little more heated and street life a little less staid. But you never had anything like this year, when many of the country's top power brokers, in a bid to defeat Ahmadinejad, used the levers of government to open up the campaign by allowing late-night campaigning and television debates.

You never had people spray-painting "Freedom!" on their vans and marching in spur-of-the-moment parades.

Iranian Presidential Contenders Court Women Voters (FARNAZ FASSIHI, 6/11/09, WSJ)
For the first time in Iran's 30-year history of presidential elections, candidates are going all out to win over female voters, making a flurry of last-minute appeals before Friday's balloting. [...]

"Iranian women can be a major force and now candidates are realizing our support can deliver them victory and credibility," says Elahe Koulaee, a professor of political science at Tehran University and a former parliament member.

The top reform contender, Mir Hossein Mousavi, broke the taboo of mixing personal life with politics by campaigning with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, an artist and scholar who has been dubbed Iran's Michelle Obama by local media.

Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric, has said he is against forcing women to wear the Islamic veil. He recently debated with his team the number of cabinet posts women should fill. Mr. Karroubi's top advisers lobbied for the foreign ministry, speculating that when relations with the U.S. normalize, the new foreign minister could shake hands with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie, who formerly headed Iran's Revolutionary Guards, has an advisory team of accomplished women and said he plans to reform the law so it ensures more equality for women. Mr. Rezaie has said he will place Iranian women in top posts in politics, education and management both in and outside the country.

Female voters have responded to the candidates' appeals, with many attending rallies and street demonstrations.

Can Ahmadinejad halt 'green tsunami'? (Maryam Sinaiee, June 11. 2009, The National)
Is the green wave of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi strong enough to effect a big change and leave Iran bidding farewell to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tomorrow?

Analysts and pro-reform politicians in Tehran increasingly believe that may happen when Iranians go to the polls, concluding a hotly contested campaign.

But an Iranian proverb says when you throw an apple in the air it turns 100 times before it hits the ground.

This year’s election campaign has been full of surprises. On Monday, Mousavi campaigners themselves were surprised when at least 100,000 supporters filled both sides of the 18km-long Vali-Asr Avenue in Tehran in response to a call to form a human chain along the street.

Traffic on the avenue and side streets was blocked by 5pm, and well past midnight there were still thousands of people chanting and honking their car horns.

Some newspapers went so far as to call the massive turnout a “green Mousavi tsunami”.

Iranians dare to dream of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad losing his job: It may not be a revolution, but Tehran sees poll as the first to matter in a decade (Ian Black, 6/10/09, guardian.co.uk)
On the eve of what looks like the country's most significant election in a decade, Ahmadinejad was in classic attack mode yesterday, using his final campaign rally to lambast Zionism and imperialists and accuse the three other candidates of using "Hitler's methods, to repeat lies and accusations until ­everyone believes them".

In a strange piece of political repetition, Ahmadinejad's slogan, courtesy of Barack Obama, is "Yes We Can". [...]

lsewhere in this vast capital, the president is loathed for his mishandling of the economy, squandering billions in oil revenue and depleting the reserves with populist gestures. Unemployment of 17% is a ­disaster, especially for the young. Inflation – officially 24%, though Ahmadinejad claimed in one TV debate it was 14% – has taken a heavy toll.

Other charges include domestic repression, the extensive use of the death penalty and discrimination against women, as well as the grave damage done to Iran by his generally confrontational style and remarks on the Holocaust. Many object too to the support he has given Hezbollah and the Palestinians. "We sympathise, but let the Arabs pay," is a common refrain. "We need the money here in Iran."

In Tehran's leafy northern suburbs the gleeful chant "Ahmadi bye bye" has been taken up by thousands of Mousavi fans, many of them young women sporting headbands, face-paint and flags in green – the colour of hope and Islam. "Go open a grocery," taunts a slogan ridiculing the president's recent distribution of 400,000 tonnes of free potatoes.

Mousavi's is an impressively modern campaign that makes highly effective use of email, SMS and Facebook, but it is also rooted in Iran's national culture: the candidate's name, in beautifully intricate Persian calligraphy, is everywhere. He promises "a state of hope".

Though a lacklustre orator, Mousavi is remembered as an effective and incorrupt prime minister during the 1980s. He has pledged to increase personal freedoms and present "a happier face to the world".

Of course, this election is only significant because they treated the last one as insignificant and ended up with Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2009 6:31 AM
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