Thursday, November 11, 2004

EurasiaNet Eurasia Insight - Iran Prepares For What Could Be Bruising Presidential Election

EurasiaNet Eurasia Insight - Iran Prepares For What Could Be Bruising Presidential Election: "IRAN PREPARES FOR WHAT COULD BE BRUISING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Kamal Nazer Yasin 11/11/04

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Iran is gearing up for what could be, given the existing tension in the Persian Gulf region, the most important presidential election in the Islamic republic’s history. Ascendant conservative forces will be looking to cement their stranglehold on the country’s political institutions. However, the conservatives are far from united, raising the odds that the election campaign will be bruising.

At present, Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, is concluding his second, four-year presidential term. Political analysts in Tehran give reformists, who have been routed by a determined conservative political offensive, virtually no chance of holding on to the presidency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Thus, the early phase of the presidential campaign, a period when conservative hopefuls are battling to raise their profiles, is attracting considerable domestic attention.

The conservative movement in Iran is not monolithic, as it encompasses an assortment of interest groups. Conservatives can be broken down into two broad categories – traditionalists, including a significant portion of the clerical establishment, and neo-conservatives, who tend to be younger and newer participants in the political process. In addition, the neo-cons appear willing to embrace radical methods in pursuit of their conservative vision.

Traditionalists have wielded their influence through three organizations – the Association of Combatant Clergy, the Association of Theological Teachers and the Islamic Coalition Society. Up until very recently, they have enjoyed the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

The neo-cons shot to the forefront of the conservative movement following the February parliamentary elections. The neo-con parliamentary faction has acted aggressively in trying to seize control of the country’s legislative agenda. Neo-cons tend to have strong ties with Iran’s security establishment, in particular the Revolutionary Guards, which has seen a marked rise in its power and status lately.

In recent months, the names of four potential conservative candidates have circulated in Tehran: the capital’s mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; former Foreign Minister Aliakbar Velayati; the former state television and radio chief Ali Larijani; and Ahmad Tavakoli, an influential member of parliament.

Velayati and Larijani, both old-guard conservatives, are supported by the traditionalist faction. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad and Tavakoli have broad neo-conservative backing. Analysts expect intense infighting to occur in the coming weeks, as the four hopefuls seek to become the conservative movement’s standard bearer. Technically, more than one conservative candidate could stand in the presidential election, but observers say that such a development would dilute their electoral chances.

Conservatives already control Iran’s judiciary and parliament, as well as the country’s un-elected religious institutions, such as the Guardian Council. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Capturing the presidency would thus leave conservatives without any checks on their authority. The campaign and election, scheduled for May 2005, comes at a time when Tehran is contending with geopolitical issues – namely the Iraq insurgency and Iran’s nuclear program – that have vital national security implications. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The Islamic republic’s survival could be determined by how the next president handles the international challenges.

While the reformists may be in disarray, a conservative triumph in the presidential election is not a foregone conclusion. That is because former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily and unaligned political operator, has yet to formally announce whether or not he will be a presidential candidate. If Rafsanjani runs, many analysts believe he would be a strong presidential contender. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Rafsanjani is viewed by both conservatives and reformists as the consummate political pragmatist, willing to abandon policy for the sake of expediency. Accordingly, conservatives, regardless of factional affiliation, now consider Rafsanjani as a major political threat, and are making a concerted effort to discourage him from running.

Observers believe that a Rafsanjani candidacy might attract the support of a significant segment of reformists, who would be willing to set-aside lingering animosity for the former president in order to blunt the conservatives drive for total authority. Conservative-dominated media outlets have published commentaries aimed at reminding reformists that Rafsanjani, during his tenure as president, pursued policies that were antagonistic to reformist causes.

Conservatives have also sought to sully Rafsanjani’s reputation with a media campaign examining allegations of financial irregularities involving his family. Some Tehran analysts believe the personal attacks on Rafsanjani may succeed in crushing his potential candidacy.

At the same time, observers believe that chances are high for an unexpected turn of events. According to some reports, traditionalists may have a hard time reaching agreement with the neo-cons on a unified candidate. Many traditionalists are said to resent neo-cons for trying to elbow members of the old guard aside in the months since the parliamentary vote. Some traditionalist leaders are said to have issued private warnings that if their preferred choice, Velayati, does not receive broad conservative backing, then they may throw their support behind Rafsanjani, instead of endorsing a neo-con-selected candidate.

According to some whispers coming out of the neo-conservative camp, Rafsanjani’s potential candidacy is prompting a reevaluation of the campaign strategy. There is now talk of neo-cons shifting their allegiances away from Ahmadinejad and Tavakoli, and coalescing around Gholem-Ali Hadad-Adel, the parliament speaker and a relative of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Traditionalists and neo-cons are clearly preparing for a vigorous battle to determine the conservative candidate. Traditionalists, for example, are revitalizing an element of their electoral machine, known as the Coordinating Forces of the Followers of the Imam and the Leadership. Proponents of the neo-con agenda, meanwhile, are stoking a media campaign to push the old guard aside. A recent declaration, issued by seven student groups associated with the neo-con-oriented Basij militia, said "the first generation [of Islamic revolutionaries] should leave the way open for second- and third-generation leaders and militants to blaze the trail."

Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, may end up determining the outcome of the traditionalist-neo-con political struggle. Ayatollah Khamenei is believed to oppose a Rafsanjani candidacy, although he has made no statement on the subject. The Supreme Leader has likewise not expressed a preference for any particular conservative candidate. His chief of staff has merely indicated recently that the conservatives would be best served by settling on a single candidate.

Editor’s Note: Kamal Nazer Yasin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs."

:: Xinhuanet - English ::Rafsanjani voices sorrow and regret over Arafat's death

:: Xinhuanet - English ::: "Iran extends condolences over demise of Arafat 2004-11-12 00:25:04

TEHRAN, Nov. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Iran on Thursday paid a rare tributeto Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his death, hailing hisprominent role in defending Palestinians' legitimate rights andcalling on successive Palestinian leaders to continue the struggle.

"Doubtlessly, his eminent role over near half a century is notconcealed to any fair-minded and honest person. His name is nowtied to Palestine," the Iranian government said in a statement.

Expressing "great sadness" over Arafat's death, the statementsaid Arafat's demise ushered in "a new chapter in the legitimatestruggle of the oppressed Palestinian people."

The statement also urged the "young Palestinian leaders touphold this grave responsibility."

"The lofty aspirations of a nation as well as its identity donot die with the demise of its leaders. Rather, their deaths ormartyrdom enormously help consolidate those ideals," it added.

The statement also called for "a total end of the occupation ofthe Palestinian territories, the return of refugees and thecreation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."

"The experience has shown that Israel, which only understandsthe language of force and violence, is incapable of confronting theintifada (uprising) and the anger of Palestinians," it added.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi termed thedemise of Arafat as a "sad and moving event".

"The Islamic Republic of Iran offers condolences to theoppressed Palestinian people over the loss of Yasser Arafat andshares this tragedy with them," Asefi said.

"Yasser Arafat spent many years, especially his youth, in theway of defending the ideals of the Palestinian nation and fightingthe occupying Zionist regime," Asefi added.

Asefi said what was important for the Palestinians was to stayunited and understand the sensitivity of the situation to "confrontthe plots of the Zionist regime, which wants to take as muchadvantage as it can from Arafat's death."

Iran's former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also voiced sorrow and regret over Arafat's death, offering his condolences tothe Palestinian people.

"Although Abu Ammar (nom de guerre of Arafat) did not achievehis life-long aspirations, it is hoped that the Palestinian partieswould put aside their differences and create a united front to leadthe resistant Palestinian people on the difficult road to savingtheir holy land," Rafsanjani said.

"I hope that the Palestinian groups would not let the Zionist occupiers manipulate the vacuum left by the loss of Yasser Arafatto create instability and mayhem in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,"he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi will attend the officialfuneral ceremony, which is to be held at Friday noon in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Arafat was declared dead in a Paris military hospital Thursdaymorning aged 75. Enditem"

Iran at critical juncture in nuke talks

Iran at critical juncture in nuke talks: "

Iran at critical juncture in nuke talks

TEHRAN (dpa) - Iran has reached a critical juncture in the talks with the European Union over the nuclear dispute, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was quoted Wednesday by the students' news agency ISNA as saying.
"After three rounds of talks with the Europeans, we have reached now a critical juncture in which we have to show both patience and wisdom to get the suitable results," Rafsanjani said. Rafsanjani, still influential as head of an arbitration council and potential candidate for next May's presidential elections, charged the Europeans of trying to impose their demands on Iran.

"Iran's demands for having peaceful nuclear technology are both legal and legitimate and the Europeans should get rational and stop imposing their demands," Rafsanjani said without further elaborating.

According to Tehran, Iran and the European Union trio of Britain, France and Germany have reached an initial agreement on the dispute over suspension of uranium enrichment, though no details have yet been officially disclosed."