Thursday, May 12, 2005

The 5-Minute Briefing: Rafsanjani's bid to lead Iran By Angus McDowall

News: "The 5-Minute Briefing: Rafsanjani's bid to lead Iran
By Angus McDowall
12 May 2005

Why is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani running for the Iranian presidency again?

The 70-year-old former president compares himself to the great 19th century prime minister Amir Kabir who was seen as the saviour of the Iranian nation. And he wants to assume that mantle by bringing Iran out of the international wilderness, establishing hugedevelopment projects and modernising the revolution.

The great power-broker of Iranian politics is also running scared. If he fails to win, the job would probably go to a hardline conservative. Such a president would set about reducing Mr Rafsanjani's power by replacing his many allies in government. And he would also try to dismantle the legacy of social and economic reforms initiated during the former president's first two terms of office from 1989-97.

Can the former president really win?

When Mr Rafsanjani stood in parliamentary elections in 2000 he suffered a humiliating reverse and withdrew because he won so few votes. Many Iranians still see him as corrupt and criticise what they see as an opulent lifestyle by nicknaming him "Akbar Shah". But in 2000 he was running against President Mohammad Khatami's reformists at the peak of their popularity. This time, his opponents will be conservatives whose strict views on morality and belligerent approach to foreign relations play badly with many Iranians. Some voters say he is the lesser of two evils and he has come to be seen as the odds-on favourite.

Would a President Rafsanjani be able to push through moderate policies?

When he was last in office, Mr Rafsanjani spent much time locked in political gridlock with hardliners. His critics say history would be repeated if he wins in June. Supporters say the former president's legendary skill for backroom dealing and his extensive network of patronage will allow him to overcome conservative opposition. Unlike President Khatami, Mr Rafsanjani is one of the founding fathers of the revolution and is more powerful among the conservative elite. He has been speaker of parliament, head of the armed forces and chairman of the Expediency Council, which arbitrates constitutional disputes. He also has a long, if stormy, relationship with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and can address him almost as an equal.

What will his candidacy mean for the nuclear issue and relations with the West?

The nuclear crisis is one of the former president's strongest cards. He has portrayed himself as the only man who can save Iran from international isolation. His allies have frequently briefed journalists on his ambition to heal the rift with America. Western diplomats believe a Rafsanjani victory would make it easier to strike a deal with Iran. But he would still have to find a key to the escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear programme."