Thursday, June 16, 2005

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran's politicians get image savvy

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran's politicians get image savvy: "Iran's politicians get image savvy
By Frances Harriso
BBC News, Tehran



Candidates are trying hard to appeal to the youth vote
"I'm in Club Rafsanjani!" jokes a young girl on her mobile telephone to her mother in Fereshteh, an affluent area of north Tehran.
Dressed in three-quarter length trousers, a tight overcoat and colourful headscarf, she is one of several young Iranians handing out election stickers for Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the frontrunner in Friday's presidential elections.

Techno music is playing from Mr Rafsanjani's office and there are even two disco lights on the upper floor. Some of the Persian pop songs come from the banned satellite channels in California.

Meanwhile, boys in black jackets and pointy shoes wearing big shades and greased back hair are thrusting posters of the 71-year-old cleric into car windows.

They give out cakes and even copies of a special CD made for Mr Rafsanjani's campaign to motorists passing by.

The stickers are written in English, not Farsi and some boys are plastered in them - across their foreheads, on every arm and leg.

Breath of freedom

Mr Rafsanjani has found an unusual following among the youth of Iran, who hope he will address their problems if he comes to power.


The outcome of Iran's election is far from certain
There is a breath of freedom because elections are coming and these young people can take risks because they have a powerful backer.

Just a decade ago they would have been arrested for not respecting rules on Islamic dress and playing loud music in public.

This is a rare election when the outcome is not a sure thing.

Candidates are trying hard to appeal to the youth vote - aware that half the population is under the age of 25.

Mr Rafsanjani has not just enlisted the help of young Tehranis - he has also hired a controversial and popular film maker called Kamal Tabrizi, whose last film made fun of a con man pretending to be a cleric.

"If I put myself in his shoes and I was Mr Rafsanjani and he was a film maker who had made the film Lizard then I too would have gone for him," says Mr Tabrizi.

His film, The Lizard, was a huge hit. Funny and irreverent, it tells the story of a man who steals the robes and turban of a Shia cleric.

It makes fun of people's gullibility and even has a scene where the con man turned cleric chats up a pretty girl.

This is not the most obvious association for a senior cleric, perhaps, but as Mr Tabrizi says: "When you're looking for an election film then definitely any aspect that connects you to the people is crucial."

He also says that some of the other presidential candidates also asked for his help but he turned them down.

Image impact

Another contender, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has a campaign film where he is shown piloting an Iran Air passenger plane.


Candidates know that image is important for this election
Mr Qalibaf may be a former Revolutionary Guard and Iran's former police chief, but now he is selling himself as a technocrat spearheading the younger generation.

He has employed professionals to run his campaign, knowing image can make a huge difference this time.

"It's the first time we've seen this scale of electioneering in Iran," says advertising executive Jalal Shamsian.

He is concerned that Iranian politicians still do not hire advertising companies to run their media campaigns, because he thinks the different candidates do not differentiate their messages enough.

However, many advertising companies do not want to get involved with one politician lest it affect their business chances if his rival wins.

For film makers, it seems it is easier to associate with politicians because their public popularity protects them.

There may only be seven candidates to choose between - nearly 1,000 other hopefuls were disqualified - but it is clear that Iranian politicians are becoming more image conscious."