Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Iran News - Iran's main presidential election contenders

Iran News - Iran's main presidential election contenders: "Iran's main presidential election contenders

Monday, May 16, 2005 - ©2005

LONDON, May 16 (IranMania) - Iranians will go to the polls to choose a successor to incumbent reformist Mohammad Khatami, with analysts expecting a campaign fight dominated by hardliners against top cleric and more moderate conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Following is a list of the main contenders, from the right wing to the left wing, who registered for a chance to stand in the polls, according to AFP.

All would-be candidates are subject to a screening process run by the Guardians Council, a hardline watchdog that examines their commitment to the 26-year-old Islamic regime.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad:

Ahmadinejad is currently Tehran's mayor, and was elected to run the sprawling city in municipal elections in February 2003 that saw a record-low turnout. He is also a former special forces officer from the hardline Revolutionary Guards, and was reportedly engaged in cross-border covert operations during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Since taking control of Tehran, the 49-year-old public servant has moved to restrict activities in popular cultural centres set up by the reformists, but at the same time

has taken more popular measures such as combating traffic gridlock and repaving roads.

However, many analysts believe he may be forced to withdraw his candidacy in favour of more popular hardliners.

Ali Larijani:

Larijani, 48, is a former state broadcast boss and currently works as an advisor to the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is also the candidate of choice for Iran's main right-wing alliance, the Council for Coordinating Forces in the Islamic Revolution.

Like Ahmadinejad, he is also a veteran of the Revolutionary Guards, an ideological army that answers only to Khamenei.

However Larijani has been at odd with other hardline contenders, who each claim to be the most popular among voters.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf:

Qalibaf, 44, quit as police chief last month in order to stand and has repeatedly said that he was "not a part of any political party or group". However he is widely seen as a favourite of Khamenei.

The former chief of the air force wing of the Revolutionary Guards, Qalibaf was promoted to head the police after student unrest in 1999. However he has come under fire over his alleged support of a crackdown on pro-reform student activities, as well as the ill-treatment and forced confessions of journalists and dissidents.

A father of three, Qalibaf does however have a populist persona. He holds a PhD in geopolitics, and sometimes moonlights as a pilot for national carrier Iran Air. As head of the police he has also been credited with sprucing up the image of the force and rooting out corruption.

Informal opinion polls have placed Qalibaf behind Rafsanjani but ahead of the other hardline contenders.

Mohsen Rezai:

A 51-year-old former chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Rezai has said he is staying in the race even though it may damage the showing of other hardliners.

He has pledged to create "a power in the region", "fight injustice and cut off the polluted hands which plague the economy."

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani:

Rafsanjani, who served two terms as president from 1989 to 1997, has for months been mulling a comeback as the regime's number two. When he opened his campaign last week, he vowed to save the Islamic republic from what he called "extremists" -- a clear reference to religious hardliners.

The 70-year-old top cleric is seen as a figure who favours closer ties with the West and eager to liberalise the Islamic republic's stagnant economy.

The father of five currently heads the Expediency Council, Iran's top political arbitration body, and is widely seen as the regime's de facto number two.

Although now promoting himself as a moderate -- somethig that could prove a draw to pro-reform voters hoping to stem a hardline takeover -- Rafsanjani remains dogged by public speculation over his alleged fortune. He recently denied being rich.

Rafat Bayat:

Bayat is one of 93 women challenging the Guardians Council ruling that females cannot be president, and is almost certain to be disqualified. A 48-year-old mother of three and a former commander of the female wing of the hardline Basij militia, Bayat is one of 12 right-wing women in the Iranian parliament.

"It is not because of feminism, because there is enough for women in Islam," she says of her presidential bid. "I am a candidate for the same reason as others -- to solve the problems of my country."

Mehdi Karoubi:

A cleric and close ally of Khatami, 68-year-old Mehdi Karoubi has registered and insists he is a "serious candidate". Seen as a moderate, centrist reformer, Karoubi served as parliament speaker before reformers were ousted from the Majlis in the February 2004 elections. He was not barred from standing in those polls, but nevertheless failed to even win a seat.

Karoubi has said he wants "to set up a powerful government" that would favour "peace and friendship and not war and tension".

Given his close ties to Khatami and his gentle persona, Karoubi is likely to have a hard time drawing support from a public disappointed with the failure of reformists to exercise any clout and overcome opposition to their agenda from powerful hardliners.

Mustafa Moin:

A 54-year-old former higher education minister and qualified medical doctor, Moin is the candidate of choice of the Participation Front, the main reformist party which is headed by Khatami's brother.

But Moin, who quit the cabinet in 2003, has previously been at loggerheads with the Guardians Council -- who will be screening candidacies -- and risks being disqualified from the final regime-approved list.

Moin has complained that his campaign was likely to be hampered by "discrimination in media coverage and financial means", and also warned that an "absence of massive participation" in the June polls "could create problems for the democratic process" in the 26-year-old theocracy.

Ibrahim Yazdi:

A veteran dissident, Yazdi has had frequent run-ins with the law and is almost certain to have his application to make it on to the ballot sheet rejected by the Guardians Council.

Yazdi, 74, heads the banned Iran Freedom Movement, and used his registration appearance at the interior ministry to renew calls for the "release of all political prisoners"."