Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Rafsanjani's central role in the upcoming elections February 2000

: "Rafsanjani's central role in the upcoming elections

IranMania - 01 February 2000

Which path will Rafsanjani choose? Dilip Hiro
Journalist and author of books on Iran writes for IranMania:

Dilip Hiro looks at the most influential candidate in the elections and the effect of his possible participation in the next Parliament.

With the electoral battle between Iran's conservatives and reformists for the control of the Sixth Majlis (Parliament) escalating during the run-up to the poll on 18 February, attention is turning increasingly to the role of Hojatalislam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The attention is well-deserved. Besides being one of the two seniormost politicians - the other being Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the Supreme Leader - in the country, Rafsanjani has a reputation for mediating successfully between competing factions.

The latest example is his successful intercession on behalf of the former mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who began his a two-year jail sentence for embezzling public funds in May.

On 25 January Ayatollah Khamanei gave an amnesty to Karbaschi at the recommendation of the head of the judiciary.

Those who like Rafsanjani call him pragmatic and 'a politicians' politician'; those who do not, describe him as an opportunist, 'a man for all seasons'. Consider his decision to enter the parliamentary fray, the latter say.

Having served as Majlis Speaker for nine years and then as President for eight, and having declared that he wanted younger Iranians in seats of power, sixty-six-year-old Rafsanjani registered as a candidate for Parliament on 15 December.

Since then the Iranian media have written or said almost as much about his political motives and tactics as they have about the contest between the conservative- fundamentalist bloc (with some 120 members in the current 270-member Majlis) and the reformist-leftist alliance (with about 70 deputies).

MOST analysts agree that Rafsanjani was not satisfied with his current chairmanship of the Expediency Council, which conciliates differences between the Majlis and the President.

Even though, following Ayatollah Muhammad Khatami's landslide victory in May 1997 presidential poll, relations between the President and the conservative-inclined Majlis needed more mediation than before, the Expediency Council chairman lacks real power. His is not therefore a high profile job.

As it is, Rafsanjani has been in the public eye since the Islamic Revolution in early 1979. He was a member of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Council, appointed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, and a co-founder of the ruling Islamic Republican Party.

He was an active member of the 1979 Assembly of Experts which drafted the constitution. Elected a Majlis member in 1980, he was voted Speaker of the house - a post to which he was re-elected every year until 1989 when Khomeini died.

Following Khomeini's death, the then President Khamanei was elected the Supreme Leader. And Rafsanjani won the presidency with 94% of the vote.

Rafsanjani became the chief executive after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, which severely damaged the national economy. So he focused on post-war reconstruction. But eleven years on, the economy is still ailing - a fact aptly reflected in the current open market rate of 8,400 Iranian Rials to one US Dollar.

Explaining his reason for running for the Majlis, Rafsanjani told the IRAN newspaper last week that economic development would suffer if factional disputes continued and that would harm the country. 'If I were in the Majlis, I would be able to help reform,' he said. 'I do not enjoy power, but I have not achieved my objectives yet.'

Despite the faltering economy, the public and the media are more interested in political development - liberalisation and reform - than in economic affairs.

The case in point is the Special Court for Clergy's trial of Ayatollah Abdullah Nouri - a close ally of Khatami, and the managing director of the pro-reform KHORDAD daily - in October. Charged with publishing sacrilegious articles, he adroitly used his trial to publicise his reformist views.

His subsequent five-year prison sentence and a ban on running for office until 2004 eliminated him as a Majlis candidate. Had he run for the Majlis from Tehran he would have most probably repeated his earlier performance in the local elections of securing the highest vote. That in turn would have led to his becoming the Majlis Speaker.

In a mid-January interview with the mass-circulation HAMSHAHRI, found by Karbaschi, Rafsanjani revealed that after Nouri's imprisonment President Khatami urged him to run for the Majlis.



Yet Rafsanjani's action is open to different interpretations.

The reformist-leftist camp says that, anticipating a massive electoral setback, he conservative-fundamentalist bloc inducted Rafsanjani in order to lessen the extent of its rout.

Most local and foreign observers estimate that in the new 290-member Majlis the reformist-leftists will displace the conservative-fundamentalist bloc as the largest parliamentary group, but short of a majority.

The fact that the conservative-fundamentalist alliance has put Rafsanjani at the top of its list lends credence to the argument of its opponents.

On the other side, the leftist leaders have combined their opposition to endorsing Rafsanjani with calls for him to state his position clearly on such issues as political reform and the running of the economy, whether he favours the public sector or private.

Rafsanjani has refused to do so, maintaining as always that he is above party politics. His brother, Mahmoud, recently said that political groups had to come to him for endorsement rather than the other way around.

Most commentators remember that as President Rafsanjani did not push through privatization, nor did he leave intact the predominance that the public sector had come to acquire against the backdrop of the Islamic revolution and the war with Iraq.

'What Rafsanjani created was a half way house with the negative features of both types of economy,' said a senior Iranian journalist in Tehran. 'Also the entourage around him is corrupt, and they have made lot of money.' In informal conversations traders in the Tehran bazaar often allude to the corrupt ways of the men surrounding Rafsanjani.

On the other hand Rafsanjani's political skills are widely acknowledged. 'In the past at the time of heightened tensions between the two hotly contending factions, he managed to defuse the situation,' said Shirzad Bozorgmehr, chief deputy editor of the IRAN NEWS.

NOW Rafsanjani is keen to prove his continuing popularity by securing the highest number of votes in Tehran as he did in the three Majlis elections he contested in the 1980s.

Securing Karbaschi's release is seen by most analysts as an important tactic that Rafsanjani has deployed to bolster his vote. Karbaschi is the leader of the Servants of Reconstruction (Kargozaran-e Sazandegi), a political group associated with Rafsanjani. He was President Rafsanjani's choice for mayor of Tehran, the appointment he got in 1989.

As the capital's mayor, Karbaschi was very popular. His release from jail will do a lot of electoral good to Rafsanjani, who is widely seen to be responsible for his remission. With Karbaschi all set to launch a new newspaper shortly his influence over the parliamentary poll will rise. His daily is expected to back Rafsanjani strongly.

SUMMING up the electoral situation, Masoud Pourfaraj, 28, an intelligent-looking, bespectacled shopkeeper selling kitchenware in the south Tehran bazaar, said, 'Conservatives need Rafsanjani in order to be successful. And leftists have to listen to him because he is powerful. There is no doubt that he will keep balance between the factions in the Majlis.'

At the other end of the social spectrum, a senior Asian diplomat said, 'Rafsanjani has the stature and skills to get the different factions to work together. He has done this before. Because he will win, and become the Speaker, the new Majlis will be moderate and well-behaved, and will cooperate with President Khatami, which is not the case with the present House.'"

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