Tuesday, June 14, 2005

AM - Former president the frontrunner in Iranian election campaign

AM - Former president the frontrunner in Iranian election campaign: "Former president the frontrunner in Iranian election campaign PRINT FRIENDLY EMAIL STORY
AM - Tuesday, 14 June , 2005 08:14:02
Reporter: Mark Willacy
PETER CAVE: A 70-year old cleric and pillar of the Iranian revolution has emerged as the frontrunner in the race for that country's presidency.

Hashemi Rafsanjani has already held the presidency once between 1989 and 1997.

This time round he's selling himself as a pragmatic reformer in a field of mainly hardline conservative candidates.

Middle East Correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Tehran.

MARK WILLACY: With is sparse goatee beard and white turban, Hashemi Rafsanjani's image has been plastered all over this congested capital. The 70-year-old cleric is the true survivor of Iranian politics. He's revered as a pillar of the revolution, and a confidante of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, but he also stands accused of corruption and killing dissidents during his presidency in the 1990s.

(Mohammad Atrianfar speaking)

"Hashemi Rafsanjani is the most pragmatic religious politician in Iran", says Mohammad Atrianfar, who's a close associate of the former president. "Rafsanjani is the only leader who can unite all the people and groups, and push through reform", he tells me.

Eight years after leaving office, Hashemi Rafsanjani is poised to return as president. Opinion polls give him a healthy lead over his nearest rival, the hardline former Iranian police chief, Mohammad Qalibaf.

In Mr Qalibaf's campaign headquarters, his election strategists are selling their candidate as young, pragmatic and caring. The uniform and sidearm are gone, replaced by designer suits, rimless glasses and a smile.

(Mohammad Sadri speaking)

"Mr Qalibaf is not a hardliner or from the right wing", says campaign manager Mohammad Sadri (phonetic) "Yes, he is a fundamentalist, but don't you have fundamentals on which you base your life"? he asks me.

(Mohammad Sadri speaking)

"Mr Qalibaf is much younger and more energetic than Hashemi Rafsanjani. He is the future of Iran", Mr Sadri says.

One of four hardline former Revolutionary Guard members running for president, Mohammed Qalibaf is a favourite of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

By contrast, Hashemi Rafsanjani's relationship with the Supreme Leader has been described as poor, and there's talk that Ayatollah Khamenei did not want the former president to run again.

By Mr Rafsanjani's close associate, Mohammad Atrianfar dismisses that as disinformation spread by rivals.

(Mohammad Atrianfar speaking)

"With Mr Rafsanjani, things are different because he knows the conservative forces really well", he tells me. "He can talk to the Supreme Leader in a way so that the Supreme Leader will support reformist ideas", he says.

And without the Supreme Leader's support, no president of Iran can succeed. Just ask outgoing President Mohammed Khatami, who had his entire reform program stifled by conservative hardliners, backed by Ayatollah Khamenei.

This is Mark Willacy in Tehran for AM."