Friday, June 03, 2005

"Qalibaf is stiff and will strip people of freedoms and militarise society. Rafsanjani is flexible and does care about things like dress codes"

International news from swissinfo, the Swiss news platform: "June 3, 2005 9:35 AM

Regional loyalty wins votes for Iran's Rafsanjani

By Amir Paivar and Christian Oliver

KERMAN, Iran (Reuters) - Being the local boy carries a lot of weight in Iranian politics.

Few of the spice merchants and mango sellers of the bazaar in the southeastern city of Kerman doubt political heavyweight Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70, will win this month's presidential election.

Rafsanjani, who held the presidency from 1989 to 1997, hails from the small town of Bahraman in the north of the arid pistachio-growing and copper-mining province of Kerman.

"This is his home territory," said Rafsanjani-supporter Mohammad Reza Mansouri, a gold jeweller. "People here know he has the long experience needed to safeguard Iran's domestic and international security."

Across the provincial capital, shops, cars and homes were festooned with campaign posters sporting Rafsanjani's wry smile and the caption: "It is time he came back."

"Rafsanjani has done a lot to help Kerman. His home town was just dusty lanes a few years ago, now it has metalled roads," said bean-seller Iman Hosseini, 24.

Kerman has been transformed into a center for car making, setting up Hyundai and Volkswagen production lines.

In his capacity as head of Iran's main legislative arbitration body, Rafsanjani has played a key role in chipping away at the state-heavy economy and attracting investment ventures such as the Kerman carmakers.

Such devotion to the home province is not unusual and President Mohammad Khatami has taken a keen interest in his home province of Yazd, notably helping the Zoroastrian community there, followers of Iran's pre-Islamic faith.

NO REAL CONTEST

Although cast as a deal-maker who could solve a thorny international debate on whether Iran is seeking nuclear arms, Rafsanjani also has a reputation as a wily businessman who has amassed a personal fortune.

This did not bother the Kerman bazaar much.

"He has probably embezzled enough cash to be able to concentrate on politics now," joked one spice seller.

The mid-ranking cleric rejects such accusations and says he is too poor to be able to campaign outside Tehran. Scoffing students have set up ironic collection boxes for him.

Second to Rafsanjani in the national polls is Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former chief of police, but few Kerman bazaar dealers reckoned he had done much for them.

"He did good work fighting drug trafficking which is a big problem in Kerman, but I have not decided who to vote for," said Hamid, a seller of sheep heads, a breakfast favorite in the Islamic Republic.

Qalibaf should probably have been able to count on support from Abdolreza Naderpour, a former police colonel, but he was angrily scribbling a letter of complaint about the shambolic organization of Qalibaf's public meeting in Kerman.

"If he cannot organize a meeting in an orderly manner, how can he be expected to run a country?" he asked.

Hosseini the bean-seller said Qalibaf's military background counted against him.

"Qalibaf is stiff and will strip people of freedoms and militarise society. Rafsanjani is flexible and does not really care about things like dress codes.""