Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Japan Today - News - Rafsanjani joins Iran presidential race

Japan Today - News - Rafsanjani joins Iran presidential race - Japan's Leading International News Network: "Rafsanjani joins Iran presidential race

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 at 07:52 JST
TEHRAN — Powerful Iranian cleric and pragmatic conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani confirmed Tuesday he will stand again for president in June 17 elections, amid widespread expectations he can beat off a field of mostly hardline contenders.

In a three-page statement, Rafsanjani said he was seeking to take back the Islamic republic's No. 2 job in order to protect the regime and the fundamental freedoms of its citizens from "extremist tendencies" — a clear reference to religious right-wingers.

Rafsanjani, 70, also warned that Iran was facing "destructive tensions that prevent the development of the country, a cold climate that places the population in a worrying situation and threats to rights and fundamental freedoms that place the young in danger of a crisis of confidence."

Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997. In the race to succeed reformist President Mohammad Khatami, he will be facing a field of rivals dominated by hardliners.

A number of informal opinion polls have placed Rafsanjani far ahead of the competition.

"The sensitive situation in the region and the world is such that to face it, we need unity and a national effort behind a policy that favours detente and the building of international trust," Rafsanjani wrote, amid mounting tensions surrounding the country's nuclear programme.

"Economic democracy and industrial development are the foundations of political democracy and social development."

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.

Rafsanjani, one of Islamic Iran's most charismatic and enduring figures, presently heads 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.

In recent years he has kept his distance from tensions between reformists loyal to Khatami and hardliners seen as closer to Khamenei.

With reformists lacking a strong candidate, analysts say Rafsanjani could count on the backing of moderates hoping to stem a hardline takeover — while at the same time holding the support of centrists and traditional conservatives.

His image as a politician who can also be ruthless if need be is also seen as being attractive to many Iranians frustrated by the perceived weakness of Khatami.

Rafsanjani's announcement came as the interior ministry opened its doors to those wishing to register to contest the polls. The ministry said 105, mostly unknown, figures submitted their candidacies during the first of five days of registration.

After registering, would-be candidates will go through a tough screening process overseen by the Guardians Council — an unelected hardline-controlled body that has the power to decide whose names can go on the ballot sheet.

Ahead of Iran's parliamentary elections in 2004, the Guardians Council rejected 2,000 candidates, almost all of them reformists. Prior to the last presidential election in 2001, the Council accepted just 10 names out of 814.

Women are automatically barred.

Four or five prominent hardliners could stand, including two advisors to supreme leader Khamenei — former state broadcasting boss Ali Larijani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati.

Political newcomer and populist former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has also announced his candidacy, and informal polls have placed him a distant second to Rafsanjani.

Fighting for the beleaguered reformist camp are Mehdi Karoubi, a cleric and former parliament speaker, and Mostafa Moin, supported by the main reformist party.

They are counting on the last minute mobilization of those who elected Khatami in 1997 and again in 2001, but risk a backlash from women, students and the young — many of whom are disappointed with the slow pace of reforms and Khatami's failure to overcome hardline opposition. (Wire reports)"