Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Mohammed Khatami, left, the former reformist president of Iran, greets clerics in a ceremony in Tehran this week.
Mohammed Khatami, left, the former reformist president of Iran, greets clerics in a ceremony in Tehran this week.

Khatami candidacy excites reformists

The former president is seen as the best bet for bringing about reconciliation with the West and reviving Iran's failing economy.

TEHRAN // Mohammed Khatami's announcement of his candidacy in June's presidential elections has livened up the political scene and is stirring up hopes of economic improvement and rapprochement with the West. Yet it is also causing worries in the Principlist camp, whose most likely candidate will be the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "I am very excited about Mr Khatami's candidacy. With all the talk about his hesitations, we had almost lost all hope that he would stand in the race on behalf of reformists," said Naser Taghavi, 39, a civil servant.

"Mr Ahmadinejad has unfortunately not been able to deliver his election promises, as everybody admits. I think we should give Khatami another chance to implement the changes the country desperately needs now, economically and in other respects," he said. The economic policies of Mr Ahmadinejad's administration are blamed by reformists, conservatives and hardliners alike for the doubling of the annual inflation rate in less than four years despite the country's sizeable oil revenues.

"The economy was doing really well during Mr Khatami's tenure although Principlists always accused him of granting a higher place to political development than to economic matters. Even many Principlist businessmen now admit that things were much better economy-wise during his two terms in office," said Mohsen Safaie Farahani, deputy secretary general of the reformist Islamic Iranian Participation Front (Mosharekat).

Conservatives and hardliners consider themselves "Principlists" because they say they are bound by Islamic principles. Mr Ahmadinejad's critics blame him for failing to proceed with the country's economic liberalisation plans as set forth in the Twenty Year Vision Document. "Mr Ahmadinejad has now realised the need for economic liberalisation, but very belatedly," said Saeed Laylaz, a political and economic analyst and editor of Sarmayeh, a reformist newspaper.

"He doesn't believe in the science of economy so he is not making progress, but Mr Khatami has great economic discipline and he will definitely be able to introduce positive changes if he is given the chance." Mr Khatami's popularity has recently increased considerably against Mr Ahmadinejad. A recent poll conducted by the intelligence ministry, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and Azad University found Mr Khatami three times as popular as Mr Ahmadinejad in Tehran and twice as popular in other cities, Farda, the conservative news portal, which is affiliated with the Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, reported three weeks ago.

Since Aug 2005 when he was elected president, Mr Ahmadinejad has travelled to many provinces and rural areas and enjoys more popularity in rural areas than in bigger cities but 70 per cent of Iran's population live in urban places. Some Khatami supporters say his candidacy will help strengthen the position of reformists on the Iranian political chessboard even if he does not win against Mr Ahmadinejad.

"Khatami's candidacy will have serious consequences for the Principlist camp. The potency of reformists will significantly increase if Khatami wins in the elections with an overwhelming popular mandate," said Naser Afshani, 28, a student of political science. "In the quite unlikely situation of losing against Mr Ahmadinejad for any reason, or against any other candidate that Principlists choose, reformists who had lost all ground to Principlists in the previous elections can turn into a strong opposition group, no longer possible to ignore by the establishment, if Mr Khatami can attract a considerable number of votes from the electorate," he said.

Most reformists believe Mr Khatami's candidacy will polarise the presidential elections, reformists and liberals against Principlists. Mr Khatami and Mr Ahmadinejad will be the main contenders, they said, despite the nomination of another reformist, Mehdi Karrubi, a former parliament speaker and leader of the reformist National Confidence Party (Etemad Melli). To win against Mr Khatami, Mr Ahmadinejad will need the Principlist parties to unite in his support and the Principlists will also need him, analysts say.

Hamidreza Taraghi, spokesman of the conservative Islamic Coalition (Motalefeh), said his party is working towards the unification of Principlists. It is very possible that Mr Ahmadinejad will be chosen by Principlists as their sole candidate in the elections and a decision will most probably be made by mid-March, Mr Taraghi said. "Mr Ahmadinejad has a huge potential for attracting the votes of the electorate and he is superior to most other possible Principlist candidates," Mr Taraghi said.

The prospect of Mr Khatami's third term in office has stirred up hope among reformists and many in the general public who say a soft-spoken and charismatic figure like Mr Khatami can help thaw the ice in relations with the West. "Not talking and just hurling accusations against each other has not helped either us or the US in the past 30 years. Khatami seems just the right man on our side to help heal the wounds," said Afshin Salehi, 38, a telecommunications engineer.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science of Tehran University, said: "During his tenure he would have been accused and attacked by Principlists if he wanted, or consented, to talk to the Americans. Mr Ahmadinejad has broken that taboo by openly announcing he was ready to talk to the US president." msinaiee@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National