TEHRAN // Sources close to Mohammad Khatami say he has made his final decision to withdraw from the presidential race in June in favour of the former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and will officially announce his decision soon, perhaps as early as today. The two reformist candidates are said to have hammered out a deal that would see a more unified attempt to unseat the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in elections this summer.
At a meeting yesterday with the members of his youth campaign group, hailing from around the country, Mr Khatami said rivals wanted to cause strife between his and Mr Mousavi's supporters. Mr Khatami told the youths he preferred to withdraw and allow Mr Mousavi to run at the head of a united reformist bloc, one that could attract the support of even those moderate conservatives who prefer Mr Mousavi over Mr Ahmadinejad.
Mr Khatami echoed the concern of many Iranian reformists worried that Mr Mousavi's run at the presidency would lead to a split of the reformist vote and the defeat of reformist candidates this year. Mr Mousavi last week became the third reformist candidate to announce his decision to run in the June presidential elections, joining Mr Khatami and Mehdi Karrubi, a former parliamentary speaker and leader of the National Confidence Party (Etemad Melli).
The reformists' worst fear has been that if they run in the June elections with multiple candidates, Mr Ahmadinejad would be given an easy ride back into power. Mr Mousavi also met and conferred with Mr Karrubi yesterday to discuss the plans to unify the reformist camp. Mr Karrubi has so far insisted that he will run the race to the end and is not prepared to withdraw under any circumstances. In the meeting with his young supporters, Mr Khatami promised to make every effort to resolve the Karrubi-Mousavi dichotomy in order to complete the consensus in the reformist camp.
Sources close to Mr Khatami say he will make every effort to persuade all his supporters to back Mr Mousavi. A number of reformist parties and groups, including the Labour House (Khaneh Kargar) and Democracy Party (Mardomsalari), already support Mr Mousavi's nomination. Mr Mousavi has attracted the interest of some moderate conservatives as well, particularly those who are critical of Mr Ahmadinejad's economic policies and what they had perceived as Mr Khatami's negligence of what they consider Islamic values. These voters are said to be inclined towards Mr Mousavi in the absence of a candidate of their own with a chance to win.
The possibility of Mr Khatami and Mr Mousavi competing for the presidency was always considered highly unlikely because the two men are believed to have great respect for each other. Some of Mr Khatami's supporters said they believe that even his withdrawal in Mr Mousavi's favour will not help save reformist votes. "My generation doesn't know Mr Mousavi, who has been away from the political and executive scenes for nearly 20 years. He may be popular with our parents' generation, but his popularity among them can't match that of Khatami's. If Khatami withdraws the votes of many young people may be lost," said Touraj Tabibzadeh, 25, a computer analyst.
Many Khatami supporters and high-ranking politicians who backed his candidacy had insisted he was not ethically bound to withdraw in the face of Mr Mousavi's nomination. "After the agreements [between the two] earlier and the official announcement of Mr Khatami's candidacy, his withdrawal will be more meaningless than ever," one former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, wrote in his blog. "His withdrawal will only pave the way for Mr Ahmadinejad to take office once again."
Some Principlists, as hardliners and conservatives are collectively known, were quick to express their delight at the news of Mr Mousavi's nomination. "Mousavi's candidacy will practically change the election scene in the Principlists' favour. It can now only be a win-win game for us," Vali Esmaili, a Principlist parliamentarian said after Mr Mousavi announced he was in the running. firstname.lastname@example.org