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News Analysis: Questions persist as Iran's presidential election nears

By Yang Dingdu, He Guanghai (Xinhua)

19:10, May 06, 2013

TEHRAN, May 6 (Xinhua) -- At dinner tables, family gatherings and business meetings, Iranians are asking about the upcoming presidential election: Will former President Mohammad Khatami join the race? How about former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani? Who is the supreme leader backing?

About one month ahead of the election slated for June 14, major contenders are still ambivalent about their participation, casting an unusually unclear prospect on who will be Iran's next president.

"This election is most peculiar. In the past, people know way before the elections which camps were going to contend and who would represent them. But this time there are so many we-don't- knows," Sadeq Zibakalam, professor on political science at Tehran University, told Xinhua.


One major cause of the uncertainty comes from the division among the conservatives, who offered united support to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the previous two elections.

"Disparity, rivalry and friction have erupted among the conservatives. The gaps are so wide that they could not compromise on one single candidate," said Zibakalam.

More than a dozen conservatives have announced their intentions to run for the presidency. The most prominent among them are the " Coalition of Three" -- former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, and former Majlis (Islamic parliament) speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel.

Still, the three, calling themselves principle-ists, or people loyal to the thoughts and principles of the supreme leader, has not decided who will join the race.

The docile Velayati is favored by senior clerics but lacks charisma. Qalibaf is young and dynamic but conservatives worry he might become another Ahmadinejad, who turned against them after their support helped him into office, Zibakalam said.


Leading figures of the reformist camp, former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani, are still hesitating.

Khatami reportedly said he will come out if it is good for the country, while Rafsanjani said he does not rule out the possibility of competing. But neither announced officially.

The chance of Khatami joining the race is low despite his intention to compete, as some senior clerics declared, more or less directly, that if Khatami decides to run, his candidacy will not pass the vetting of the Guardian Council, Zibakalam said.

Some reformists believe that pushing Khatami, the most prominent leader of reformists, will provoke the conservatives. While Rafsanjani is the more practical candidate, although he is nearly 80-year-old and has enemies from both reformist and conservative camps, Zibakalam said.

Yet, Rafsanjani will still be a stronger contender than Velayati, Qalibaf or any other conservative candidates, provided that the Guardian Council approves his candidacy and his conservative competitor does not have Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's support.


Ahmadinejad's separation from the mainstream conservatives further confounds the situation.

The incumbent president has been grooming his top aid Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to step into his shoes.

Mashaei is detested by many senior clerics and conservative politicians who accuse him of leading a "deviant current" that puts Iranian nationalism on par with Islam.

"It is no longer a classic right versus left, conservative versus reformist election." Ahmadinejad who is neither a traditional conservative nor reformist has become a third force in Iran's political arena, according to Zibakalam.

Through eight years of presidency, Ahmadinejad has mustered considerable influence in government institutions and Iran's countryside. He has earned loyal support from Iran's poor, less- educated rural population with his populist rhetoric, frequent travels to rural areas and controversial subsidy programs.

Ahmadinejad's endorsement can bolster Mashaei's support from rural voters, but he still needs approval from the Guardian Council to run. He may not register for candidacy at all if he believes the Guardian Council will certainly turn him down.

Presidential-hopefuls will officially register their candidacy from Tuesday to Saturday.

"This is a crucial period when many questions will be answered, " Zibakalam said.

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