Monday, May 23, 2005

Bloomberg.com: Rafsanjani "believed to favor rapprochement with the U.S"

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Iran Bars Main Pro-Reform Candidate From Presidential Election
May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Iran's election supervisory body barred the main reform candidate from contesting the June presidential election, giving its preference to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and those with military backgrounds.

Former Science Minister Mostafa Moin, 54, was disqualified along with more than 1,000 candidates, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Moin was the candidate of Iran's main reformist party, Participation Front, and one of the strongest contenders to Rafsanjani, according to recent polls.

The Guardians Council, an unelected body comprising six theologians appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary, selects candidates according to their capacities and faithfulness to the revolution and Islam.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a member of the Participation Front, called the move a ``coup d'etat,'' and urged voters to boycott the election, Agence France-Presse reported. ``This move is unfair, unreasonable, and illegal,'' AFP cited Moin as saying.

The reform movement supporting Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was dealt a blow in February 2004 when more than 2,000 of its candidates, including 80 deputies, were excluded from parliamentary elections, which were subsequently won by supporters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Six of 1,014 registered candidates will be allowed to take part to the presidential race, IRNA reported. All 89 women who registered were barred. Ex-police chief Mohammad Reza Qalibaf, a leading critic of pro-democracy protests when he was a Revolutionary Guard leader, is seen as Rafsanjani's main rival. Rafsanjani, 70, was president of the Islamic Republic from 1989 to 1997 and leads opinion polls.

Unwelcome `Populism'

The record registration of candidates angered the Guardians Council, which complained about emerging ``populism'' in society, IRNA reported.

The other qualified candidates are former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, former Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former head of state broadcasting Ali Larijani, and Mohsen Rezai, the former commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, the element of the military that is most loyal to the country's ruling Islamic clerics. Qalibaf, Larijani, Rezai and Ahmadinejad have all played important roles in the military.

Karroubi, 68, is the last chance reformists have of keeping the presidency, according to AFP. His odds are low, though, since he failed to secure a seat at the 2004 parliamentary elections.

According to polls released last week by Iran's Mehr News agency, Rafsanjani was credited with 25 percent of the votes, while Moin came second and Qalibaf third with 17 percent.

Rafsanjani's Power

Rafsanjani has wielded power since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, when he served on the Revolutionary Council under Khomeini. He currently heads the Expediency Council, Iran's top political arbitration body, and is deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which appoints Iran's supreme leader.

Qalibaf, 43, describes himself as a ``fundamentalist, defending the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.'' He said in an interview on May 19 that he will promote the role of women and focus on young people's aspirations in his bid to win the election. Before heading the police, Qalibaf was an air force chief in Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Rafsanjani, whose family is reported to have investments in pistachio farming, real estate, auto-making and a private airline worth a total of $1 billion, is better placed to promote foreign investment, according to the London-based Control Risks Group, a company advising businesses on investment hazards.

``A Rafsanjani presidency would not substantially change the foreign investment environment, but victory for a hardliner could entail a shift away from the drive to attract investment from Western companies and a greater reliance on Asian investment,'' the company said in an e-mail last week.

U.S. Rapprochement

Rafsanjani is also believed to favor rapprochement with the U.S., according to Control Risks. The U.S. hasn't had diplomatic ties with Iran since Islamic militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, taking its staff hostage. Fifty-two American diplomats were held for 444 days until their release in January 1981.

Rafsanjani and Qalibaf both agree on the nuclear issue, saying it's the country's ``legitimate right'' to develop a nuclear power program. The U.S. alleges Iran is gearing up to build a nuclear bomb.

The country's top negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, is due to meet with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany for emergency talks this week aimed at salvaging negotiations.

Two rounds are likely to be needed to elect Iran's next president, IRNA said. The first round will take place on June 17.

``None of the aspirants to replace President Mohammad Khatami will muster the 50 percent vote needed for an outright win in order to avoid a runoff election between the top two contenders,'' IRNA said, citing its own polls.

Khatami, whose efforts to move Iran closer to a market economy have been resisted by the religious leadership, will step down in June after serving eight consecutive years, the maximum allowed under Iranian law.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Marc Wolfensberger in Tehran at mwolfens@bloomberg.net"