Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Iran's Presidential Election Campaign Heats Up

Edward Yeranian, Cairo
May 26

The four contenders in Iran's presidential election campaign have been criss-crossing the country in an effort to gain support ahead of the June 12 vote. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be the favorite going into the final stretch.
A large crowd of students cheered Iran's top reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi at Tabriz University, during a stump speech, just over two weeks before Iranians are due to go to the polls to elect a new president.Mousavi is running neck and neck with incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and despite the support of former reformist President Mohammed Khatami, many analysts say he is fighting an uphill battle, because Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is tacitly supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad.An Iranian prime minister during the 1980s, Mousavi is still remembered by many Iranians for guiding the country through the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq War and for his even-handed economic policies during tough times.Mousavi told students in Tabriz, Tuesday, that he supports free-speech, since that was a key goal of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution:"The revolution," he says, "was aimed at guaranteeing us freedom of speech. It is not in our best interest to not tolerate opposition, because this would make it impossible for us to be part of the modern world."President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, gained the support, Tuesday, of the largest bloc in Iran's parliament. Two hundred members of Iran's "Principlist Front" coalition of conservatives signed a letter, pledging to vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 12th.Mr. Ahmadinejad also used a 30 minute national campaign ad to defend his handling of the economy, insisting that "Iran's economy is stable, despite the global economic crisis." He also claimed to have defied outside enemies by his wise handling of foreign policy.During a campaign gathering in Tehran, the hardline head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, threw his support to Mr. Ahmadinejad, as well.
A third candidate for president, hardliner Mohsen Rezaei, who headed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards for 16 years, campaigned in northern Iran, saying he would form a coalition government which includes "efficient people that abide by the law."Rezaei went on to threaten Israel, claiming that he was capable of neutralizing the Jewish state with "one strike," a possible allusion to an attack on Israel's Dimona nuclear complex.Trailing the other three contenders, candidate Mehdi Kharroubi, one-time speaker of Iran's parliament, complained that his campaign ad, calling for the change of Iran's constitution, had been censured.Karroubi has gained some notoriety among the four candidates for proposing a novel economic plan which would grant shares in Iran's oil wealth to all Iranian citizens.
FACTBOX: Issues in Iran's presidential election race
May 26
Iranians vote on June 12 in a presidential election that will test the popularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against rivals who criticize his combative stance on the nuclear issue and his handling of the economy.
Following are some of the campaign issues and positions of the four candidates cleared to run by the Guardian Council:
The candidates have promised no major change in Iran's nuclear policy, saying such matters of state are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but they have signaled subtle differences in approach. Moderates, such as former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi and former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karoubi, have faulted Ahmadinejad for isolating Iran by denying the Holocaust and making fiery anti-Western speeches. However, no candidate has suggested that Iran could address the West's concerns over its nuclear program and halt sensitive work.

As in the 2005 presidential election, all candidates have said they are open to the idea of resuming relations with the United States. This reflects how popular such a move would be among Iranians weary of a rift that has lasted almost three decades. But nearly all the candidates demand "fundamental" changes in U.S. policy toward Iran. These could include removing the Islamic Republic from the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors or unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian assets seized in the United States after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Candidates have offered few detailed ideas on how to improve the economy in Iran, which has the world's second biggest oil and gas reserves. Critics say the government did not save enough when oil prices were high to maintain spending after they fell below $40 a barrel in February from a July peak of $147. Prices have since firmed to almost $60 a barrel. Many Iranians complain of inflation, which hit almost 30 percent last year but which dipped to 12.5 percent in April, and rising unemployment.
Karoubi has said he will distribute shares of oil income to all Iranians aged over 18. He advocates greater privatization.
Mousavi, who administered a relatively efficient state rationing system when he was prime minister during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, now favors more liberalization of the economy.
Ahmadinejad's spending policies have been criticized as inflationary and wasteful of windfall oil revenue earned by the world's fifth biggest crude exporter. He has promised to alleviate poverty and reduce dependence on oil income, which accounts for 80 percent of hard currency earnings. His power base rests on poorer segments of Iran's 70 million people.
All candidates have promised to uphold freedom of speech and improve women's participation in government and decision-making in Iran, often criticized abroad for its human rights record. Karoubi and Mousavi have opposed Ahmadinejad's drive to enforce what hardliners define as Islamic dress and social behavior.

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