Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Rafsanjani's Delaying Tactic - Will he or won't he?

The Journal of Turkish Weekly: "Rafsanjani's Delaying Tactic
- Will he or won't he? That is the big question dominating a great deal of the pre-election campaign season debate in Iran.


Even though he has repeatedly said he has no intention of running, analysts believe the chances of former two-term president Hashemi Rafsanjani entering the race for the May 13, 2005 presidential election is high.

In fact, the conservatives have delayed the official launch of their presidential campaign and introduction of candidates by a month, pending Rafsanjani's decision. A group of prominent right-wingers are due to meet with Rafsanjani on this issue within the next few days.

Among those observers who are convinced the former president and current Expediency Council (EC) chief will make a run for it cite the following as reasons for their view.

1) By entering the race, the political forces aligned with him will be organized. The Executives of the Construction Party (ECP) – a movement founded by Rafsanjani – made up mostly of technocrats, need him as a supporter for regaining its lost political footing within the system. Conversely, Rafsanjani could use the help of the ECP as a political advocate organization. Many ECP members were ministers and capable top government executives in previous administrations who could assist Rafsanjani with organization and coordination for his drive for the presidency.

2) The EC has lost the prominent position it enjoyed as the chief arbitration body within the system during the reformist Sixth Majlis era. Back then, the majority of parliament-approved legislations were struck down by the watchdog Guardian Council, requiring the EC to act as arbitrator and issue a final ruling on the matter. With the hardliner-dominated Seventh Majlis and the GC agreeing on most issues, the EC is now out of the loop in the legislative process. Rafsanjani doesn't like to be irrelevant and he is likely to enter the presidential race to reclaim his political position of supremacy within the hierarchy of the system.

3) Some Majlis hardliners are in the process of launching investigations against former top level officials of the system -including Rafsanjani – in order to settle political accounts and long held grudges. By becoming president, Rafsanjani would create a wall of immunity around himself against any potential criminal probes.

4) History attests to the fact that political personalities – no matter how legendary or popular - have expiration dates. Once they are out of the scene, coming back, though not impossible, but certainly excruciatingly difficult. A case in point is former prime minister Mir-Hussein Moussavi. If Rafsanjani doesn't try his luck this time around, his political career is virtually finished, pundits stress.

Nevertheless, not all experts are of the view that Rafsanjani will throw his hat into the ring. Their logic and reasoning for having reached such a conclusion is as follows:

1) The current legislature is filled with ultraconservatives and hardliners who sing their own tunes, and, at times, pass "wild" and "irresponsible" bills. Rafsanjani would not run because it would be too much of a challenge for him to work with such a "radical" and "loose cannon" Majlis.

2) Many in both factions believe that Rafsanjani's "effectiveness" has come and gone and strongly criticize his past policies, especially in the economic arena.

But despite everything, the dominant view is that if Rafsanjani decides to run, nothing and nobody – including the GC - can stop or dissuade him.

By simply getting into the ring, the entire domestic and even international political dynamics will change. One hardline MP said it best: "If Rafsanjani comes in, the presidential race will become very serious."

But what about the electorate? What are the chances that the voters will opt for Rafsanjani again?

Commentators believe the political behavior of Iranian voters is quite unpredictable and complex. However, one factor that does influence how the Iranian electorate usually votes is that the people usually like to vote for the underdog. The more opposition there is within the system toward a candidate the more popular he or she will become in the eyes of the public.

In addition, other crucial factors for Rafsanjani include whether he can convince various tiers within society to support him, including the students. Based on evidence at hand, the student generation is not that keen on Rafsanjani. Students want radical change, which is natural considering their age group and the basic temperament and disposition of student movements.

In conclusion, Rafsanjani knows his early announcement would have significant repercussions. Therefore, he is doing his best to delay his candidacy until the 11th hour in order to minimize the negatives as well as to assess the reaction within the media, political and public circles for his eventual run.

29 December 2004 "

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