Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani will be a reluctant candidate

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (in file photo) suggested he will be a reluctant candidate

Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iran's influential former president, has given his clearest indication yet that he will run as a candidate in June's presidential election. The 70-year-old pragmatic conservative cleric is considered by many analysts as a leading candidate to succeed President Mohammad Khatami. Rafsanjani, who heads the country’s powerful Expediency Council, has been a key figure in Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Prague, 26 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani said yesterday that he would enter Iran’s future presidential race with reluctance.

In comments published by Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said: "The question of the presidency has been on my mind. Even though I prefer that someone else take up this responsibility, I think I will have to swallow this bitter medicine."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani currently chairs the powerful Expediency Council, the main body of arbitration between the parliament and the Guardians Council. But he has held several other top positions in the Islamic Republic since its establishment 25 years ago.

In recent months, Hashemi-Rafsanjani has hinted about his intention to run in the 17 June presidential election. But while other candidates have already started campaigning, Hashemi-Rafsanjani has made no formal declaration. He has said several times that he would prefer someone younger to contest the elections.

However, recent opinion polls show that Hashemi-Rafsanjani would be a leading candidate.

Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, said many see Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the only leader who could bring some political balance inside the country and improve ties with the West.

"When you compare other candidates with Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani, you see regarding executive matters, political authority, and international status that his position is not comparable," Zibakalam said. "International power knows that if they reach an agreement with Rafsanjani, it is unlikely that he would not be able to carry it out. We don’t have this in regard to any of the other candidates."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s powerful status has deep roots. He was a key member of Iran’s Revolutionary Council and the first speaker of parliament. In the last year of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, he was appointed as acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani's two-term presidency, from 1989 to 1997, was marked by some economic and social liberalization and by a postwar economic boom. But also during his tenure, several opposition leaders and dissidents were murdered in Iran and abroad. "If he became president, he would be a weak president because the opinion polls show that he would gain only about 22 percent of the vote." - Sadi

Akbar Ganji, a prominent jailed journalist, has said that Hashemi-Rafsanjani should be held accountable for political killings that took place under his administration. Ganji has spent the last five years in prison for his critical articles and his investigations into the serial killings of intellectuals in late 1998.

Observers say there are several reasons for Hashemi-Rafsanjani's hesitation to announce his candidacy. Some point to his defeat in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Others say Hashemi-Rafsanjani has waited for his candidature to get the green light from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Professor Zibakalam of Tehran University said that in the face of growing domestic problems, the nuclear crisis and U.S. threats against Iran, Rafsanjani may feel he has no choice but to enter the presidential race.

"He would definitely prefer another political figure, or another person to come and [solve the current problems]. But as we move forward, we see that the conservative candidates do not have the power and ability [to win] and if the reformist candidates gain votes, they will not be able to solve the problems, either. Their power will not be in any case more than Mr. Khatami’s power -- [and] he could not in the last eight years achieve many of his goals. And similarly, [reformist candidates] Mr. Moein and Mr. Karrubi will not be able to do more than Khatami," Zibakalam said.

But Ghassem Shoaleh Sadi, a political analyst and a former parliamentarian, disagrees with that analysis. "If he became president, he would be a weak president because the opinion polls show that he would gain only about 22 percent of the vote," Sadi said. "Therefore, he will not have strong popular support and he will not be able to cooperate with the current parliament, which is dominated by ultra conservatives who do not support him."

Reacting to reports about Rafsanjani’s possible candidacy, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said his government does not have concerns about who will be Iran's president, only about what policies the new leader would follow.

In a February interview with "USA Today," Rafsanjani said that as president he indicated his willingness to engage the United States in dialogue "if they show goodwill." He added that he remains of the same opinion.

Iran’s presidential elections are only two months away but so far observers say it has generated little interest among a deeply apathetic public. The Interior Ministry recently announced that between 42 and 51 percent of eligible voters intend to vote on 17 June. During the last presidential elections, more than 63 percent of eligible voters turned out.

(Radio Farda correspondent Fereydun Zarnegar contributed to this report.)"

FT.com / Middle East & Africa - Rafsanjani set to run for Iran presidency in June elections

FT.com / Middle East & Africa - Rafsanjani set to run for Iran presidency in June elections: "Rafsanjani set to run for Iran presidency in June elections
By Gareth Smyth in Tehran
Published: April 26 2005 03:00 | Last updated: April 26 2005 03:00

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's influential 70-year-old former president, yesterday gave the clearest indication he would again run for president in June's elections when the reformist Mohammad Khatami stands down.

"The issue of the presidency has occupied my mind, and even though I would like someone else to take the responsibility, I think I'm going to have to swallow this bitter medicine," Mr Rafsanjani said.

But the election has no obvious frontrunner, and Mr Rafsanjani's months of hesitation have delayed the decisions of others.

Politicians have less than three weeks to announce their candidacy. So far, two reformists have declared, and at least six conser-vatives, most hardliners, have expressed interest.

With the election likely to remove the reformists from the presidency, there are domestic and international fears that militant conser- vatives, critical of dealings with the west and suspicious of foreign investment, could add the presidency to the control of the Iranian parliament they gained last year.

European diplomats, who have long expressed frustration at the reformists' inability to carry the regime, see Mr Rafsanjani as the best available choice.

"For eight years we've had blockage in institutions - so Rafsanjani, as a pragmatist with links inside the regime, would be able to bring things forward even if very gradually and slowly," says one senior western diplomat.

While western diplomats do not expect Mr Rafsanjani to promote political reforms at home, they feel he may check the militants' rising influence. "We have to be realistic," said one. "Sometimes that means choosing the bad over the worse."

Mr Rafsanjani has already launched a charm offensive towards the west. His close aides have established quiet contacts with British dip-lomats - a matter of great sensitivity in Iranian politics given Britain's historical role in supporting the Shah.

Mr Rafsanjani's allies have assured western diplomats he could deliver improved relations with Europe and a dialogue with the US.

High among Europe's concerns is Iran's nuclear programme. Its 18-month negotiations with Iran's Supreme National Security Council have been largely with officials close to Mr Rafsanjani, and Europe hopes the talks can lead to the most important agreement with Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The SNSC has also opened a channel to the US via Britain over Iraq.

But Mr Rafsanjani's success is far from assured. He is likely to face at least one conservative candidate, as well as Mehdi Karrubi, the former parliamentary speaker who bridges reformist and conservative camps.

Mosharakat, the main reformist party, says the legitimacy of the elections would be in doubt if its candidate, Mostafa Moein, were barred from running."

Iran News - Iranian Ebadi blasts regime

Iran News - Iranian Ebadi blasts regime: "Iranian Ebadi blasts regime

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - ©2005 IranMania.com

LONDON, April 26 (IranMania) - Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi hit out at Iran's Islamic regime Monday for barring women from standing for president and said existing vetting procedures meant "free and healthy" elections were impossible.

Ahead of the June 17 presidential election, the Guardians Council -- a hardliner-controlled watchdog which screens all candidates -- has said it is sticking by its interpretation of a key word in Iran's constitution that has long been taken as meaning that only men can be president.

"I object to the Guardians Council's interpretation of the word 'rejal'," Ebadi -- Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2003 -- told a news conference in Tehran.

The disputed word, which comes from Arabic, could also be interpreted as meaning "personalities" in Persian and this is the translation used in some English translations of the constitution.

Aside from barring women, the Guardians Council can also weed out candidates it deems to be unsuitable. This power was used to devastating effect prior to the February 2004 parliamentary elections, when nearly all pro-reform candidates were disqualified.

The polls were subsequently won by conservatives and hardliners.

In the last presidential elections in 2001, the Guardians Council whittled down a list of some 900 would-be candidates to just 10.

"The approbatory supervision by the Guardians Council... negates a free and healthy election," said a statement issued by the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, a group headed by Ebadi.

"Only a government that has been chosen by a free and healthy election can have people abide by its orders," the statement warned.

So far only one woman is trying to challenge the Guardians Council and stand -- conservative MP Rafat Bayat.

Meanwhile Monday, top cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani signalled he was poised to announce his candidacy, criticising what he said was bickering between the current contenders.

"I was expecting that the social climate in the country would move towards unity, and that the personalities and political groups would prioritise the interests of the country and the regime," the powerful cleric said in a statement.

"If the feudal rivalries continue, my national and Islamic duty obliges me to be a candidate," added the charismatic politician, who served as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997.

Rafsanjani is currently the head of the Expediency Council -- Iran's top political arbitration body -- and has for months been openly mulling a bid to take back the Islamic republic's number two job when the country goes to the polls on June 17.

He has been presenting himself as a pragmatic conservative detached from Iran's right-left rivalries.

The race has so far been marked by the absence of a strong pro-reform candidate to succeed incumbent moderate Mohammad Khatami -- who has served the maximum two consecutive terms allowed -- as well as divisions in the conservative camp.

Iran's main conservative alliance, the Council for Coordinating Forces in the Islamic Revolution (CCFIR), has chosen the hardline former state television boss Ali Larijani as its choice to contest the polls.

But two of his chief rivals, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and populist ex-police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, have refused to pull out, as has former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai."

Iran News - Mehralizadeh candidacy finalized

Iran News - Mehralizadeh candidacy finalized: " Mehralizadeh candidacy finalized

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - ©2005 IranMania.com
LONDON,April 26 (IranMania) - The spokewoman for Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a probable presidential candidate, declared on Tuesday Mehralizadeh's final decision to nominate himself as a "presidential candidate." Fatemeh Khatami told reporters that Mehralizade had finalized his decision to be a presidentisl candidate for June 17 election, maintaining his promotional activities are ready to begin.

Asked about Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's candidacy for presidential election and its impact on Mehralizadeh's decision, the spokeswoman responded that Rafsanjani was a valuable figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and his presence as a candidate for 9th presidential election would likely add fire to the oven of election.

"He [Mehralizadeh] has not yet made a decision in this regard. The candidacy of both Mehralizadeh and Rafsanjani do not contradict," she added.

She further stated that an electoral environment had not yet been created in the country and most people were not motivated to gather information from candidates, adding the situation would be better approaching to the election date.

Mehralizadeh, now a presidential candidate, had not the time for interview by reporters in his trip to Ardebil to inagurate five sports projects in the province."

Westerners Try To Create Fear Of Militarization Of Politics

RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY: "Iran: Observers Fear Militarization Of Politics
By Bill Samii

The possibility that an individual connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) could be elected as Iran's next president is causing some consternation in Iranian political circles. National police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former IRGC commander, announced in Tehran on 11 April that he will run in the 17 June elections.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accepted 43-year-old Qalibaf's resignation on 5 April, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Before succeeding Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian as police chief in June 2000, Qalibaf was commander of the IRGC Air Force. Another prospective candidate with a serious background in the IRGC is Mohsen Rezai, who commanded the corps for 16 years.

Qalibaf's plan to be a candidate in the presidential election indicates the militarization of the political process, several articles in the 4 April issue of "Eqbal" newspaper suggest. "Eqbal" and "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 4 April that younger conservatives associated with the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) and the Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) support Qalibaf.

Interestingly, there are allegations that another former IRGC official and current presidential candidate, Ali Larijani, is supported by the military. The Baztab website reported on 17 March that a clerical official in the IRGC has a high position in the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, the mainstream conservative body that backs Larijani.

The Developers themselves have not been very forthcoming on their choice. A recent Developers press conference turned out to be something of a bust, "Etemad" and "Eqbal" newspapers reported on 5 April. The many reporters at this event expected to learn something about the conservative organization's preferences in the upcoming presidential election, but Developers' spokesman Mehdi Chamran, who is a member of the Tehran municipal council, was not very specific. Previously, Ali Larijani appeared to be their favorite, but Chamran said a choice has not been made yet and added, "We support all those who adhere to fundamentalist thinking." He continued: "If they [the candidates] select a particular candidate among themselves, we will support their choice. We do not wish to act as a council that selects the candidate. We want the people to make the final choice." He said the Developers were created at a stage when the fundamentalists were "in a state of despair and uncertainty." Chamran described his organization as "an ideology and an intellectual movement."

Revolutionary Candidates

Reformist politician Mustafa Tajzadeh wrote in "Eqbal" on 4 April that if Larijani or Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad wins the election, a militarized administration will emerge and it will try to reassert the revolutionary and religious values that existed in the early years of the revolution. Tajzadeh compared this to prewar Germany and the Nazi Party's actions.

Reformist presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said in a late March meeting with officials from his election headquarters that in recent years he has warned of the military's involvement in political affairs, the daily "Etemad" reported on 3 April. "[I] have repeatedly condemned it and have openly criticized them," he said. Karrubi said it is a mistake to ignore the actions of the IRGC, the Basij, the Guardians Council, the judiciary, the Special Court for the Clergy, and agencies affiliated with the supreme leader. Karrubi said his attitude toward these institutions includes "strong reactions" when he was not in office and a "respectful but firm stance" when he was speaker of parliament. "I am confident that if people elect me I will solve many of the existing problems by making use of the same methods," he said.

Police Reformer

Qalibaf is an interesting candidate for president. "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 4 April that under his command the previously unpopular police force earned a much better reputation. He created the 110 rapid-reaction system (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002, and http://www.police.ir/), which made the force operate more efficiently, and he also eliminated the influence of political factions in the police.

Yet Qalibaf's respect for civilian leadership of the government is limited, He is one of the 24 IRGC commanders who in July 1999 sent a letter to President Mohammad Khatami warning that if he did not act to quell student unrest, they would not stand by idly and would take matters into their own hands (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999).

Qalibaf is not the only person the young conservatives are considering as a presidential candidate. Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai have their backers. If the young conservatives do not select Qalibaf, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported then he could be tapped as a conservative victor's interior minister."

Xinhua - Israel's Katzav shakes hands with Syria's Assad, talks with Iran's Khatami

Xinhua - English: "Israel's Katzav shakes hands with Syria's Assad, talks with Iran's Khatami

www.chinaview.cn 2005-04-08 20:37:37

JERUSALEM, April 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Israeli President Moshe Katzav shook the hand of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Roma on Friday, Israeli Public Radio reported.

The radio said Assad took the initiative to shake Katsav's hand a second time after the funeral of the Pope John Paul, the radio said.

Meanwhile, Katzav also spoke in Persian with Iran's President Mohammad Khatami at the same occasion, said the radio.

Syria is officially at war with Israel and Iran does not recognize the Jewish state. Enditem"

Khaleej Times: Woman MP Rafat Bayat seeks okay to run for president in Iran

Khaleej Times Online: "Woman MP seeks okay to run for president in Iran

25 April 2005
TEHERAN - Iranian lawmaker Rafat Bayat may be bidding to be the first woman allowed to run for president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but she rejects Western accusations that the country is oppressing its women.

A 48-year-old sociologist elected to parliament in February 2004, Bayat says depictions of the Iranian women’s rights situation have been exaggerated in the West and by opponents of the country’s system of clerical rule.

“To say that women in Iran are under pressure, that their rights are violated, is not true,” she told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.

Rights activists draw attention to the fact that in Iran a woman needs her husband’s permission to travel abroad and her testimony carries half the weight of a man’s in court.

Divorce, custody and inheritance rights in Iran are also unfairly biased against women, rights lawyers say.

But Bayat, one of just 12 women in the 290-seat parliament, played down the importance of such issues, many of which she said could be resolved through dialogue between husband and wife.

Instead, she said, if elected she would place emphasis on promoting women into more positions of power and influence.

“My views are mainly political and I want to be involved in getting women into high levels of decision-making,” she said, speaking at her office in an computing and arts educational college which she heads in upmarket north Tehran.

Council says men only
Aspirants vying to replace outgoing reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami in the June 17 election must first be vetted by a constitutional watchdog known as the Guardian Council.

The Council, comprised of six clerics and Islamic jurists, has in the past always rejected women hopefuls and its spokesman earlier this year said its interpretation of the constitution remained that only men could stand.

Many reformist clerics disagree, arguing that the word ”rejal” used in the constitution means “mankind” and not “man” and thus, does not exclude women.

“I’m very hopeful,” said Bayat. “It’s my interpretation as a member of parliament that I have all the qualities that are needed.”

Ali Larijani, selected by a panel of hardline politicians as their official candidate last week, said on Sunday a female participant in the race could encourage voter turnout but that the final decision lay with the Guardian Council.

Political analysts, however, do not rate Bayat’s chances either of getting the Council’s approval or of success in the vote if she did.

Opinion polls suggest the front-runner is former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, followed by former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, both viewed as moderate conservatives. A group of hardliners and reformists trail in their wake.

Human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has also called for women to be allowed to stand.

Bayat, however, criticised Ebadi for being overly influenced by Western feminist approaches and international law.

Bayat also criticised young Iranian women who flout Islamic dress codes by wearing tight-fitting and skimpy coats and allowing headscarves to slip and reveal their hair.

But she said education rather than the usual response of police crackdowns was the way forward. “We need to teach people to believe in it (the dress code),” she said."