Reformers mull presidential bid or boycott

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran’s main reformist party was Thursday meeting to decide whether Mostafa Moin, its candidate who was given last-minute approval to stand in presidential elections next month, should go ahead and contest the polls.
The fears are that even if Moin manages to pull off a surprise win on June 17, he would simply be a lame-duck president and unable to honour his campaign pledges due to opposition from more powerful hardliners.

“There are three options — we boycott the elections, take part with certain conditions or take part unconditionally,” Issa Saharkhiz, a senior party member and aide to Moin, told AFP.

The Guardians Council, a hardline political watchdog which screens all candidates for public office, had initially blocked Moin from standing in the race to replace incumbent reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

The former higher education minister has been seen as the most credible reform candidate, and his disqualification was greeted with accusations of a “coup d’etat” by hardliners and calls for a damaging boycott.

Following the intervention of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Guardians Council backed down and agreed to allow Moin and another reformist to stand after all, bringing the field of contenders to eight.

“Given his earlier opposition to non-democratic interventions in state affairs, it will be paradoxical for [Moin] to accept his own reinstatement through the same mechanism,” the Iran Daily wrote Thursday.

Moin is also facing calls from the main pro-reform student group, the Office to Consolidate Unity, to boycott the polls — and Moin had said that he is counting on student support.

Many voters, especially women and students, are frustrated by the pace of reform and hardliners still control most key institutions, limiting the power of a future president.

Moin’s aides say he is eager not to be classed as a puppet of the regime.

“It will be a Herculean task to mobilise the support of 2.4 million students who formed the most significant voter bloc for reformists in the last two presidential elections,” the Iran Daily commented.

Furthermore, still seen as the campaign frontrunner is powerful ex-president and pragmatic conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is seeking a comeback as the 26-year-old regime’s number-two and pledging to save the country from “extremists.”

Rafsanjani, a 70-year-old cleric, is seen as a deal-maker who favours improved ties with the West and economic liberalisation — something that may lure voters tired of Iran’s international isolation and high unemployment.

He could also count on support from many past reformist voters angered by Khatami’s failure to wield any political clout.

The other five candidates are hardliners Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mahmud Ahmadi Nejad and Mohsen Rezai — all veterans of the hardline Revolutionary Guards — plus the moderate former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi.

Qalibaf, a populist former national police chief, has been tipped by informal opinion polls — to be treated with caution — as running a distant second behind Rafsanjani.

With campaigning just one day old, dirty tricks ranging from rumours to Internet hacking were in action.

Rafsanjani was forced to insist that he was not pulling out of the race — “rumour-mongering” allegedly started by his hardline rivals.

While the Rafsanjani campaign did not point the finger at a particular candidate, the campaign headquarters of one of his main hardline rivals was buzzing with speculation that Rafsanjani would drop out.

And another hardliner, Ali Larijani, was also forced to dismiss a rumour that he was pulling out in favour of Rafsanjani.

Larijani’s camp likewise blamed a “psychological war,” and complained that one of their “adversaries” had also hacked and brought down his campaign website.

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