Although Iran’s May 2005 presidential election is less than six months away the official and final list of candidates is still a dark mystery. Many would-be runners are waiting upon the decision of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the powerful Expediency Council. Most other would-be candidates would be deterred from trying their luck against him.
Rafsanjani’s standing as ironclad candidate is surprising given his failure five years ago to win a seat in the Iranian parliament the majlis. Running for one of the 30 seats allocated to Tehran, he came in 31st. Attempts to falsify the results and put him in 25th place caused an uproar in the capital, especially in its markets, forcing him to withdraw.
His poor showing in that race has discouraged Rafsanjani since from making another bid for the presidency, a post he held for two terms before the incumbent Mohammad Khatami. As president, Rafsanjani built a reputation for being the Islamic regime’s voice of pragmatism – the reverse of his present radical stance as senior adviser to Iran’s all-powerful (unelected) spiritual ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In the last two months, Rafsanjani has on a number of occasions voiced a desire to run “if the people call me”. But it is not clear how many of “the people” will actually vote for him when the time comes. In a country where darlings of the regime commonly drum up “popular movements”, the scarcity of posters or public petitions touting him for president is conspicuous. Nonetheless, a Rafsanjani campaign headquarters is functioning and it has put its best foot forward by declaring him the most promising presidential candidate with everything set for his winning run.
The powers-that-be are not overly keen on him declaring his candidacy because no serious contenders would venture to run against him. Lack of choice would reduce turnout to a trickle and make the election a fiasco.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources report that inside Rafsanjani’s own radical camp, certain powerful figures have turned to dirty tricks to head off his candidacy. They are spreading rumors and leaflets depicting the Rafsanjani clan’s tremendous wealth and throwing doubt on the integrity of his sons who are businessmen with a wide range of profitable enterprises. One leaflet asks point-blank what Rafsanjani’s beloved daughter, Faezeh, has been up to in London, where she has been living for many months. Toward the end of her father’s second presidential term, Faezeh was a majlis deputy and made a name as an advocate, perish the thought! – of women’s rights.
Reformists need not apply
As question marks linger over Rafsanjani’s candidacy, Khatami’s so-called reformist camp is struggling to find a charismatic candidate that can also win the trust of the Council of Guardians, without whose approval no-one may run for election in Iran.
One possible choice is Mir Hossein Moussavi, prime minister during the crippling eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1989. He succeeded in stabilizing the Iranian economy in those war years but his standing as a potential reformer is less solid, particularly as he has never shed the dubious distinction of being known as the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini‘s lapdog and disciple of the Islamic Republic’s founder’s religious fundamentalism. Early rumors circulating about Moussavi and his wife moved him to renounce in advance any call to run for president on the reform ticket. None of the other names in circulation may yet be considered a serious contender.
General Mohsen Rezai, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and for the past several years secretary of the Expediency Council. Three years ago, he made himself an honorary doctor. Though ambitious, he has no real political following.
Mahdi Karrubi, a reformist who was Speaker of the majlis up until three months ago.
Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, another former Speaker of parliament, currently an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei.
Ali-Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister who is now Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser.
Ali Larijani, up until a year ago, managing director of state radio and television, currently Khamenei’s representative on the national security council.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian experts believe that the greater the friction between Washington and Tehran, the more radical the presidential candidates are likely to be – especially if the UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons program at Washington’s insistence. Harsh US action carries the danger of strengthening political extremism in Tehran.