Tuesday, May 17, 2005

iran: Rafsanjani grabs the lead - “Rafsanjani is a sure value”

iran: Rafsanjani grabs the lead: "iran: Rafsanjani grabs the lead

Candidate Rafsanjani: “Many people may not actually like him, but at least they know what they’ re getting”

By staking his claim to Iran’s political center and pledging to fend off religious hard-liners, the influential Iranian cleric Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has emerged as a clear front-runner in the race to become the Islamic Republic’s next president, analysts say.

In a three-page statement that formally kicked off his campaign for the June 17 vote, Rafsanjani said he was seeking to take back the country’s number-two job in order to protect the regime and the fundamental freedoms of its citizens from “extremist tendencies”.
This was seen as a clear reference to religious right-wingers, who for the past eight years have cemented their power while stalling the reform agenda of incumbent President Mohammad Khatami, nearing the end of his second successive and therefore final term in office.
Rafsanjani, 70, also warned that Iran was facing “destructive tensions that prevent the development of the country”, and threats to “rights and fundamental freedoms” that “place the young in danger of a crisis of confidence”.
Tired of the reformist-conservative tensions that marked the Khatami era, as well as the reformists’ focus on social and political reforms, many voters may now turn to a figure they see as a pragmatist who is good for business.
‘People see Mr. Rafsanjani as a decision-maker. He’s seen as someone who can bang heads together and get things done. People liked Mr. Khatami, but he was too weak for the job”, explained an Iranian publisher and analyst.
“Mr. Rafsanjani may not be offering the kind of radical reforms people wanted from Khatami, but he won’t be rolling back reforms and is likely to pay more attention to economic issues”.
Even before he finally confirmed his intention to stand, a number of informal opinion polls placed Rafsanjani far ahead of a field of other challengers dominated by conservatives.
The gap could now widen, one Iranian paper said as the country digests a campaign declaration that has pretty much something for everyone -- even if it was heavy on rhetoric and short on detail.
On foreign relations, Rafsanjani wrote of the need for “detente and the building of international trust” -- amid mounting tensions surrounding the country’s nuclear program and ongoing animosity, with the United States.
The top cleric said a new president would need to tackle “unemployment, social security, poverty, corruption, discrimination”, and “meet the challenge of a young society” and women “more determined to participate”.
Analysts believe bread and butter issues remain the primary concern of most Iranians, whose economy is rich in oil and human resources but poor in terms of real job prospects.
“Economic democracy and industrial development are the foundations of political democracy and social development”, Rafsanjani said, seizing what has been the largely vacant political centre ground.
Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s enduring figures, has already served as president from 1989 to 1997. He presently chairs the Expediency Council -- the regime’s top political arbitration body.
He has remained a central pillar of the Islamic regime thoughout its 26-year history, and is widely seen as Iran’s de facto number two, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The main conservative candiates are former state broadcasting boss Ali Larijani, former national police chief Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai. But the spread of candidates within the far-right may damage their scores.
Reformists are also lacking a strong candidate, and observers believe Rafsanjani could count on votes from moderates while at the same time and hold the support of centrists and conservatives.
“Rafsanjani is a sure value”, said another Iranian analyst, who also asked for his name not to be used. “A lot of people may not actually like him, but at least they know what they’re getting”."