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Author Topic:   More about Presidential Election !!!!!
Vatandoost
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posted June 01, 2001 10:04     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Times
Leading article

The real issue in Iran's elections cannot be discussed

May 31, 2001

Four years ago, a mildly beaming cleric won a landslide victory in Iran, in an atmosphere vibrant with hope that he could relax the stifling grip of conservative mullahs on people’s lives. President Mohammad Khatami will win a second term next week but in a more sombre climate in which reformers fear that many, particularly among the disillusioned young, will decline to vote. Turnout is critical, because unless he garners at least as many as the 20 million votes he gained last time, he will lose ground in the debate raging within Iran about the nature of government, the source of its legitimacy and the permissibility, under Islam, of democratic reforms. Mr Khatami can still draw crowds — 30,000 last week, at the only election rally to have been held in a campaign almost devoid of excitement, and in which none of his nine conservative opponents has deigned even to give speeches, let alone hold public meetings. His cautiously couched liberalising message is the same. But that, for many Iranians, is the
trouble. They ask where his promises in 1997 of accountable government, judicial reform and greater cultural and social freedoms have taken them. Not far, is the answer; there were gains at the start but the wheels of reaction
have been churning since 1999, first to suppress student unrest and then to silence reformers and shut down around 40 of Iran’s increasingly outspoken magazines and newspapers. At critical points Mr Khatami held his fire, or actually turned against protesters. He may have had little choice. But it has cost him credibility.

So has Iran’s deepening impoverishment. Inflation is down but unemployment is at least 15 per cent and avowedly much higher among the young; and 40 per cent of families live below the official poverty line. Although Mr
Khatami’s grasp of economics is limited, this policy failure is not his fault. His Government’s efforts to privatise and deregulate the economy have been thwarted by the religious Council of Guardians. This body vets all parliamentary legislation and blocked the last budget in order to force higher subsidies for the state enterprises which, to the enrichment of the corrupt clerical oligarchy, control 80 per cent of the economy. But Mr Khatami suffers because he is responsible for policies that he cannot control.

There is increasing doubt that reform is possible so long as power in Iran is unequally divided between two rival governing systems in which the unelected religious element headed by Ali Khamanei, the Supreme Leader,
trumps the elected executive and legislature and controls, in addition, the military, the security apparatus and the judiciary. Mr Khatami is not the man to break this mould; whatever his differences with the conservative Mr Khamenei, both men are dedicated to the Khomeini revolution of 1979. Only this week, the President claimed that this had given Iran “a government whose masters are the people”. He is thus the creature of this dual structure, even if he admits that “our system of management is sick”.

The resentful young in particular are becoming radicalised by the inflexibility of the hardliners. “Islamic democracy” seems to them a contradiction in terms. In Iran, the young matter; they can vote at 15, and 52 per cent of the electorate is under 30. They will vote for Mr Khatami, if they vote, as a man who can “help society stand up” against corruption, human rights abuses, incompetence and global isolation. But he cannot be their ally against the theocracy from which he hails. That is the real issue. Because it is hazardous even to hint at it, this campaign
has been ominously quiet.

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posted June 01, 2001 10:09     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Campaign Slow To Generate Voter Enthusiasm

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
By Charles Recknagel/Azam Gorgin

Iran's presidential campaign is in its penultimate week, with posters hung in major cities and candidates giving speeches on radio and television. But observers in Iran say that so far, the election has failed to generate widespread excitement. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports that could mean incumbent Mohammad Khatami will easily win the 8 June poll, but still have difficulty garnering the sweeping mandate he enjoyed four years ago.

30 May 2001


Prague -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami this week held the only scheduled mass rally of his re-election campaign as he spoke at an outdoor Tehran stadium to more than 30,000 people.

Khatami drew an enthusiastic response as he called for reforms in all areas of Iran's public life -- political, economic, and social. Those were the same calls which galvanized Iranians to turn out in overwhelming numbers four years ago to sweep him into office.

Supporters at the 28 May night rally chanted "two plus 18 equals 20." The slogan was meant to suggest that if Khatami can follow his first election -- held on the second of Khordad, by the Iranian calendar -- with a new victory next week on the 18th of Khordad, he will achieve a perfect mark of 20, the highest grade given in the Iran's school system.

If Khatami appeared to electrify his supporters on 28 May, the event stood out primarily as a rare moment of excitement in what otherwise has been a largely invisible Iranian presidential race during the past two weeks.

The campaigning by Khatami -- who is considered certain to win on 8 June -- and his nine lesser-known rivals has been almost entirely conducted on state radio and television. These outlets have given all candidates equal time of up to 13 hours to reach voters, but many speeches are reported to be broadcast too late in the day to draw wide audiences. The profusion of candidates has also complicated the ability of voters to hear speeches by their favorites.

Observers say the restrained nature of the campaigning may make it difficult for Khatami to again win the kind of sweeping mandate that propelled him into office in 1997, when election fever brought out 76 percent of Iran's eligible voters. Of the 29 million votes cast then, Khatami won 20 million.

Khatami's supporters hope that if Iranians again turn out in large numbers for the president, he can use his second term to push ahead on reforms despite a conservative backlash. During recent months, hard-liners have reversed many of Khatami's initiatives, including those seeking a freer press.

To try to gauge if Khatami can gain a sweeping second mandate, RFE/RL's Persian Service has spoken to journalists and other observers in Iran to ask them to characterize the mood of the voters.

Persian Service correspondent Siyavosh Ardalan recently spoke with Fariborz Gharib, a journalist in Tehran, who said that so far there is little excitement in the capital over the election.

"There is a stagnant feeling in the society. Along with the campaign posters there is also written here and there, in black and red ink: "Participation in the Elections -- No!"

It is uncertain who is behind such graffiti, but popular speculation focuses on at least three possibilities. One is that the words are written by hard-liners hoping to reduce Khatami's mandate. A second is that the graffiti reflect disappointment among former Khatami supporters. And a third possibility is they come from people opposed to the government in general.

Observers say that in other major cities the current presidential election is also generating noticeably less enthusiasm than four years ago.

Persian Service correspondent Jamshid Zand spoke yesterday with Mohammad Sadegh Taheri, a journalist in the south-central city of Kerman about campaigning there.

Taheri says he expects Khatami to do well in Kerman because the government has moved strongly over the last year to deal with two of the most pressing local concerns: violence and hostage-taking associated with the drug trade from nearby Afghanistan. He says that unemployment -- though still, in his view, "sizeable" -- is lower in Kerman than in other cities. Iran is widely thought to have a 25 percent unemployment rate nationwide.

But Taheri says he expects less than a 50 percent voter turnout in next week's election.

"The number of eligible voters in the whole country is 43 million, and in Kerman about 800,000. Participation in this election, in my opinion and from my observation of the current situation, will be less than 50 percent."

Iran's liveliest forum for public debate -- the liberal press -- has been hard-hit by a succession of newspaper and magazine closures ordered by the hard-line Judiciary during the past year. The Judiciary has banned almost 50 reformist publications that received licenses under Khatami's early efforts to open the press. Hard-line courts have also jailed scores of pro-reform journalists and intellectuals.

Still, news of the presidential race appears daily in the press, even though it is largely one-sided because of the conservatives' control of almost all publications. A recent article in the conservative daily "Resalat" quoted a hard-line cleric and a reformist deputy from Tehran, who both neatly summed up their sides' position in the current face-off.

Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi sought to dampen public interest in the election by charging that voters who support reform are only seeking to pursue political agendas and personal gains.

At the same time, parliamentarian Mohsen Armin sought to diminish in advance any advantage conservatives might try to gain from Khatami's bringing out fewer voters next week than he did in his first presidential race.

Armin said it is natural for a second-term president to win fewer votes. "Fewer votes, despite some other parties' points of view," he said, "is not a rejection of reforms."

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Jasbi's campaign office in Eslamshahr attacked, one injured

TEHRAN, May 31 (AFP) - A campaign office for Iran conservative presidential candidate Abdollah Jasbi's near Tehran was attacked Wednesday night and one of his supporters hurt, his campaign headquarters reported Thursday. "Unidentified men came, tore down the placards and posters and destroyed the office in Eslamshahr. They attacked an activist, in charge of the office, with a knife", the headquarters said.

The attackers set fire to the office, while the injured man, who was not named, was taken to a nearby clinic.

Jasbi, 57, the chancellor of Iran's Open University, is one of the ten candidates for the June 8 election, for which reformist President Mohammad Khatami is a hot favourite.

The campaign has seen a number of provincial campaign offices attacked, including two of Khatami supporters and another of Jasbi.

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Iran right candidate promises revolutionary change

TEHRAN, May 30 (Reuters) - Mansour Razavi, a conservative outsider running in Iran's presidential elections, vowed yesterday to trim the state bureaucracy, launch a giant housing programme and boost production and exports if elected on June 8.

"Increased production is the key to resolving our economic problems," Razavi told reporters. "Once we increase production and enter world markets through our exports, we can resolve the unemployment problem too."

"We need a revolution in production and production management. We can increase production by reducing red tape and attracting investments from the private sector here and from abroad," he said.

Razavi, a vice-president for eight years, is one of nine conservative candidates standing against incumbent President Mohammed Khatami in polls due on June 8. The moderate Khatami is expected to win a second term easily.

In a bid for the youth vote - Iranians can vote at 15 - Razavi, a member of the Tehran city council, said he would simplify school curricula to reduce the "burden" of studying and abolish university entrance exams.

"Beliefs and ideas can not be imposed on youth by force," he said in an attempt to distance himself from more hardline conservative allies who bemoan the "West-toxication" of the new generation of Iranians. With half of the more than 42 million eligible voters aged less than 30, other conservative candidates have also moderated their rhetoric with an eye to the young.

"The Right has finally come to the conclusion that they have to keep religion, faith and 'values' separate from politics and campaigning," said pro-reform analyst Saeed Leylaz. "Even the most hardline have temporarily put aside 'values' in exchange for the vote, but they are not going to get the vote. Young people don't trust them."

In another pitch for disenchanted voters, Razavi said he had plans to build cheap housing on a mass scale for newly-weds as part of his plans for increased production and employment in the construction sector.

"Our private sector has shown that it likes to invest in construction and we have no technical shortcomings in this field, all we have to do is to provide the necessary funds," he said. "We can build 40-60 square metre flats, give them to young couples on subsidised mortgages and after 10-15 years of paying instalments, they become owners of their property."

On foreign policy, Razavi said he would pursue confidence building measures, especially with Iran's neighbours. On relations with the United States, he said he would look for signs of change in the U.S. administration which would bring about a new atmosphere more conductive to talks.

"Decision-making will be much easier in such a new atmosphere," he said. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after militant Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Razavi, who teaches management at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University, said he had detailed plans to scale down the state bureaucracy and decentralise power. "As (former) head of the state administrative organisation, I forwarded a project to re-organise the state apparatus years ago, but it was quietly shelved. Only the president has the power to make such radical changes and this needs courage, but unfortunately nobody had the will to do it in the past."

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Khatami takes 75% of vote in "mock" student election

TEHRAN, May 31 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami took 75 percent of the vote in two mock elections organised by three Iranian universities, while conservative candidate Ahmad Tavakoli came second a long way behind, the official IRNA agency said Thursday.

Just over a week before the June 8 presidential election, the science faculty of southern Iran's Shiraz University organised a mock election, in which Khatami won 76 percent of the vote, while former labour minister and conservative candidate Ahmad Tavakoli, trailed him by 67 points with nine percent.

A similar poll was organised by the two universities of Yazd in central Iran. Khatami mustered 74.9 percent of the vote against 10.3 for Tavakoli.

Students were among Khatami's biggest supporters when he swept to power four years ago, with 70 percent of the national vote.

Although these mock elections only involve students and cannot be considered as opinion polls, they are the first indications on voter intentions with the election only nine days away.

The mock votes also show that among Khatami's nine rivals, Tavakoli might appear to have a lead on former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, conservative candidates Abdollah Jasbi, Hassan Ghafuri-Fard and moderate candidates Mostafa Hashemi-Taba and Ali Shamkhani, none of whom could secure more than five percent of the students' votes.

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Baseless Rumors, Empty Promises

The Tehran Times
Editorial

May 31, 2001

The 10 candidates standing in the 8th presidential elections are stepping up their efforts to woo the voters in the run-up to the June-8 voting. But it is unfortunate that some of these candidates are resorting to unfair and unethical means and practices to attract a larger number of voters.

For instance, a candidate has been spreading baseless rumors in order to draw the attention and sympathy of the public and give the impression that he is being singled out by opposition groups for harassment. Resorting to this cheap tactic, which is by no means accepted nor approved and is met by scorn and disdain from the Iranian people, he has been trying during the past few days to portray himself as an innocent victim of factional rivalry.

On May 26, a daily affiliated to this candidate carried a report of an arson attack on his election headquarters in the city of Ardakan. But later it was revealed that the report was false and only aimed at publicity and political gains.

The same daily again on Wednesday reported that the election headquarters of this candidate in Khuzestan Province had been attacked on the previous day by "some monopolists advocating violence." However, other reports from the province indicated that the report was baseless.

The candidates spreading such baseless reports should note that their action constitutes an open insult to the revolutionary Iranian people, as they are assuming that they can influence the vigilant Iranian people through such cheap tactics. Instead of resorting to devious means, these presidential hopefuls had better be sincere and honest with the people, since honesty is the best policy they can adopt in order to influence the people.

Furthermore, during their election campaign, some candidates have been giving certain promises that they can never fulfil. One candidate has said that he will remove the university entrance exams if elected to office. This remark drew serious reactions from the officials of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. These officials provided several reasons proving that this promise cannot be fulfilled overnight and needs long research and planning.

Other candidates have promised to build hundreds of universities, create five million jobs and give apartments to all young people who are approaching the age of marriage should they be elected president of the country. But none of them has come up with a plan or specific program in order to persuade the electorate that how they are going to work these wonders and miracles during just four years in office.

On the television programs afforded to each candidate by the IRIB, every presidential nominee has so far just sung his own praise and offered hollow and empty promises. This is why the necessity of organizing debates between the candidates becomes even more evident.

It is the duty of mass media, particularly the state radio and television, to organize such debates so that the candidates may challenge the feasibility of each other's plans and programs - if there are any real plans. These debates will help the people to decide who is the best candidate for the office.

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Ahead of Vote, Iran Tense Yet Quiet

The Los Angeles Times
By Michael Slackman, Times Staff Writer

May 31, 2001

TEHRAN--Vandals set fire to one of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's campaign offices. Students were arrested for chanting anti-government slogans. Thugs smashed windows at the campaign office of a conservative candidate.

And yet it is strangely quiet on the streets here, impossible to tell that in a week voters will go to the polls to either reelect the reform-minded Khatami to a four-year term or choose one of nine opposing conservative candidates.

There is no campaigning to speak of. No posters or placards along the streets and sidewalks. No debates. The president has kept the lowest profile of all. He has not left this capital to campaign and has held just one campaign event here.

"Mr. Khatami doesn't have to introduce himself, the people already know him," his chief of staff, Mohammed Ali Abtahi, said Wednesday. "We asked that no one put posters of Mr. Khatami on the walls."

Dual images define the character of this Iranian election season as one of opposites. Arson and bare walls. Chanting and an absence of debate. Indifference and concern.

Political observers here say that few believe the outcome of the June 8 vote will change anything dramatically, with Khatami expected to win. Yet conservatives would like to reimpose control. And reformers still want their ideas advanced.

The contrasts are everywhere. This week, Khatami held his only rally. Some of his young supporters left the stadium chanting anti-government slogans--"Down with the mullahs' regime!" and "Release all political prisoners!"--reflecting the divisions between Khatami's reformist administration and the still-pervasive power of conservative clerics. The supporters were arrested.

But Wednesday, the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front could not fill an auditorium for a rally in defense of women's rights. Almost half the seats were empty by the time the president's brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, stood to speak.

"There is general apathy among all groups," said a political analyst who asked not to be identified because he is involved in the election process. "Part of [President Khatami's supporters] are disappointed because he has not taken more radical steps and measures. Conservatives are disillusioned too. They arrested people, they closed newspapers, and still things go on."

Four years ago, things were quite different. The streets were filled with posters, and both sides were energized behind their candidates. The traditionalist clergy who control Iran had anointed parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri as the president-in-waiting.

Khatami, a former minister of culture and Islamic guidance, became the darling of the reform movement, bringing together a cross-section of the electorate that had felt disenfranchised by the hard-line religious establishment.

Both sides were stunned by the outcome. Khatami's supporters had never dreamed that the previously little-known cleric--removed from his Cabinet post because he was too liberal--would win.

"We thought he would not become president," Abtahi, the chief of staff, said Wednesday. "We were interested in creating a minority party with Mr. Khatami as the pivot."

Today, Khatami's supporters are remaining quiet, and the conservative establishment has not endorsed any of the nine other candidates, who are not expected to seriously challenge the president.

Instead, the fight has become a strategic battle over the margin of victory, with both sides looking for an advantage. The reform camp says Khatami needs to match, or at least come close to, his stunning 1997 victory in which he garnered 20.7 million of the 29.7 million votes cast. Without that, he will lose political leverage--and still he has decided not to campaign.

"If he gets 15 million or 14 million votes, it is not a moral blow to him, [but] it is a disappointment," the political analyst said. "Practically, it could mean his bargaining power with the conservatives is less."

Under Iran's Constitution, the president does not have extensive power. The supreme leader, conservative Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the highest political and spiritual authority in the nation.

Even after the embarrassment of having their candidate trounced last time, the conservatives have undermined Khatami's leadership, locking up some of his closest political allies, shutting down reform-minded newspapers and thwarting many of his efforts at social and political reforms.

As the two sides maneuver, tensions sometimes explode. On Tuesday, vandals in the city of Esfahan doused the local office of Khatami's party with gasoline and set it on fire, the state IRNA news agency reported. A week earlier, the campaign headquarters of conservative candidate Abdollah Jasbi were ransacked.

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AFP: Khatami tells students "nothing will stop Iran's reform movement"

TEHRAN, June 1 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami said Friday in Tehran that the reform movement he initiated in Iran was irreversible. "Nothing will stop the movement which was started. The student movement needs to be the driving force behind this reform movement", Khatami told some 300 students members of the pro-reform movement Unity Consolidation Bureau (UCB) at the Jamaran mosque in northern Tehran. Khatami said about the June 8 election which he is expected to win comfortably: "The people will decide, and, whatever it decides, it will act responsibly".

The Iranian president also defended pluralism: "It is natural that there should be different leanings, even among the students". Khatami made no reference to Ali Afshari, the 29-year-old head of the UCB who was jailed in December 2000, after a speech questioning the authority of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Students were waiving portraits of Afshari, calling for his release, but Khatami has no grip on Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary. The UCB, often criticised by the conservatives, supported the July 1999 student demonstrations, which led to violent riots and were repressed by Islamic militias.

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Independent (UK): Cleric's campaign has been dogged by murder claims

Cleric's campaign has been dogged by murder claims
The Independent
By Christopher de Bellaigue in Tehran
01 June 2001

With his immaculate powder blue cleric's robe and munificent smile, Ali Fallahian looks anything but the mastermind of scores of murders of Iranian political dissidents. But allegations that he used his time as intelligence minister in the 1990s to order some eighty murders have dogged Mr Fallahian's campaign to unseat Mohammad Khatami, Iran's reformist President, in elections next week. Mr Fallahian, a powerful establishment figure in an Islamic republic whose economy is misfiring, is campaigning on a platform of "spirituality, wealth, and intellectual and industrial development". But recent questions have centred less on policy than on his alleged role in the murders, and a German court's ruling in 1997 that implicates him in the murder of two Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant. Mr Fallahian, a portly 52-year-old cleric, insists he is the victim of a smear campaign by reformist journalists gathered around Mr Khatami. He says this campaign was masterminded by "vengeance-seeking" intelligence agents, whom he sidelined when he was minister. One of these, he says, is Saeed Hajjarian, who was a key Khatami aide until he was shot and almost killed by Islamic militants last year. "But there are others," Mr Fallahian adds.

Mr Fallahian's bęte noire is Akbar Ganji, a jailed investigative journalist whose stream of revelations convinced many Iranians of Mr Fallahian's involvement in the murders. But Mr Fallahian rebuts Mr Ganji's claims. He says other people wrote Mr Ganji's articles, and that the journalist was motivated by a personal grudge. "When Ganji was in the Revolutionary Guard," he says, "I took him to task after he had beaten up a suspect." Before his imprisonment, Mr Ganji repeatedly wrote that men under Mr Fallahian's command tortured dissidents. An influential former judge, Mr Fallahian escaped investigation.

Why, if Mr Ganji is telling lies, does Mr Fallahian not sue him? "Mr Ganji is a zero. His work is that of a humorist, or a novelist; besides, he never accused me directly." Last year, Mr Ganji used a sensational court appearance to name Mr Fallahian as the "master key" who had given orders for many of the murders. "What does 'master key' mean?" Mr Fallahian asks innocently. As for the German court ruling, he dismisses it as part of a strategy "by Jews and dissidents" to undermine Iran's Islamic regime. Mr Khatami's popularity leaves Mr Fallahian with little hope of victory, but his views are illustrative of the clerical establishment that has used its enormous influence to prevent the President from reforming Iran. Can Mr Fallahian see Iran recognising Israel? "Only when all Jewish immigrants to Israel go elsewhere"; and Palestinians and indigenous Jews "set up their own country".

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AFP: Khatami needs clear victory and high turnout: analysts

TEHRAN, June 1 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami needs at least the 70 percent of the total vote he received in 1997 backed by a high turnout in next week's election if he is to begin his second mandate in a position of relative strength, analysts say.

"The conservatives want him to win fewer votes than four years ago. They want to reduce his legitimacy, prove that his popularity is diminishing, and that many people are disappointed," Shahrdod Rahmanifard, professor of political sociology said. "By increasing the number of candidates, they aim at dispersing the votes, but this may rebound against them by triggering a higher turnout," he added. The conservative Guardians Council, which controls the elections, approved nine candidates, most of them conservatives, to run against Khatami on June 8, a record under the Islamic republic. With the population explosion that has taken place during his first four-year term, Khatami is estimated to need 22 million votes this time rather than 20 million to repeat his success proportionately. But the president, under strong pressure from conservatives, notably the judiciary which closed reformist newspapers and jailed his supporters, only reluctantly decided to stand for a second term. His campaign has so far been rather half-hearted and lacklustre, a far cry from his drum-banging style of four years ago when he beat the conservative Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri. While Khatami seems unworried by possible failure, his adversaries hope to take advantage of a general sense of disappointment, particularly with regard to his economic and social achievements. Ahmad Tavakoli, a former employment minister who could come second -- though a long way behind if mock elections staged in universities are anything to go by -- is putting the boot in. "In spite of Khatami's remarkable services to the system by reviving pure revolutionary slogans such as freedom, human dignity, etc., his failing to comply with the slogans has discouraged the nation," he said in an interview published Thursday in the daily Tehran Times. "This suggestion of discouragement and lack of interest could lead to fewer votes for Khatami," said political scientist Khosro Abadi, However communications professor Ali Akbar Farhangi said the public mood should not be misinterpreted, and that there is real interest in the June 8 polls. "That the people have been rather silent should not be viewed as their passiveness", he said in the Iran Daily. The reformist majority parliament successfully resisted Wednesday a move by the Guardians Council to bar from voting those whose identity cards bear no photographs. This should essentially benefit more than five million voters aged between 15 and 19 who could not vote four years ago but can be expected to back Khatami.

For another five million Iranians living abroad, many of whom are considered pro-reform, they will be allowed to vote in Iranian schools, mosques and offices of the state airline Iran Air, avoiding the need to travel to their nearest diplomatic mission.

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Time Magazine: Losing His Touch?

Losing His Touch?
Time Magazine
BY AZADEH MOAVENI
On the campaign trail, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami fails to inspire June 1, 2001

Knowing the outcome of an election in advance tends to make for a dull campaign. The driving logic of President Mohammed Khatami's campaign is that since the issues matter - and there is no serious rival to beat - people should vote en masse as a giant stamp of approval for the reform movement. Khatami will undoubtedly win next week. But his goal is to win impressively, so the fight is to woo the disenchanted among Iran's 40 million voters, who might be inclined to stay home on election day. This means grabbing people's attention. So when the Khatami camp announced the first - and perhaps only - huge rally of his campaign, it seemed that some fireworks were in store.

For two weeks reformists trumpeted the speech, claiming that Khatami would "tell all." A sports stadium was rented, and the judiciary inadvertently created some last minute excitement by threatening to cancel the event. But inexplicably, instead of maximizing his crowd appeal, Khatami picked the bland route. "Don't vote for sentimental reasons," he urged the 40,000-strong audience. "Vote out of vigilance for democracy." Khatami singled out the voters he wanted: women, students and young workers. But his talk of accountability and democracy was encumbered by so many clichés and boring historical references that the young crowd that had turned out in the blazing sun only heard stale messages in old wrappings. Nearly everything about Khatami's speech left supporters perplexed, yearning for that old Khatami charm. "He's lost that love and feeling," said Siamak Namazi, a Tehran consultant, as he walked out after ten minutes. The lively pre-speech mood only underscored Khatami's fatigued approach. Loudspeakers blared rousing revolutionary anthems, while supporters sported psychedelic sun visors adorned with Khatami's face and a Technicolor daffodil. The crowd chanted: "Political prisoners must be freed." The stadium fell to a hush when presidential advisor Saeed Hajjarian, still limping from a would-be assassin's bullet, made a surprise appearance, his voice cracking as he recited poetry. "Reform has a price," he cautioned. "And even I am still prepared to pay an ever higher one." Massoud, 27, an engineer, was unmoved: "A higher price? It's already too much to bear," he complained. But the crowd cheered wildly and began chanting, "Death to terrorists!"

From the bleachers, prominent reformists surveyed the crowd. Renowned satirist Ebrahim Nabavi, released from prison in November, interrupted a discussion of a memorable prison football match to traipse off into the throng. "I'm off to get some energy," he said, disappearing into the crowd. But in the end, there was no energy to be found and great expectations collided with a lackluster performance. "I expected a confession, where he would tell us about the obstacles he faced," said Maryam, 34, a teacher. By the middle of the Khatami's speech, though, there were pockets of empty seats in the bleachers. Being vague is Khatami's strong suit, a tactic he uses to avoid giving his conservative opponents a target for attack. But with his senior aides hoping Khatami will garner 25 to 26 million votes, no one can explain how the President can aggressively court voters while being his usual cautious self. "We know realistically he won't get more than 16 or 17 million, but we don't want this to be used against him later," said MP Ahmed Bourghani. In the 1997 election Khatami received 20 million votes; anything less this time around could be used by the President's conservative opponents to show that Khatami has lost support. Khatami has succeeded in making the reformist cause mainstream. In his speech, he trumpeted the fact that even his opponents have embraced this message. "For years whoever proclaimed these slogans was condemned as a destroyer of Islam," said Khatami. Today, he said, any politician vying for public support "has to pay them lip service." Khatami may have won the spin battle, but his spin, which once drove his supporters ecstatic, is losing its crowd-pleasing appeal.

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Ardalan
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posted June 03, 2001 11:33     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
President Khatami urges students to press on with reforms

BBC Monitoring Service
Jun 2, 2001

Tehran, 1 June: The reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Friday [1 June] called on students to be a driving force behind the reform movement which, he said, was irreversible.

"Today, the student movement should push ahead with reforms patiently to bring about independence and freedom in Iran," Khatami told some 300 students members of the pro-reform student group Office to Foster Unity (OFU) at the Jamaran mosque in northern Tehran.

"The students should closely watch the trend of reforms in the country," he added.

Khatami noted that the students have born the brunt of all setbacks the reform movement has suffered since he took office four years ago.

"We should scrutinize the causes behind initiation of reforms to help them succeed," Khatami, who is a shoo-in for the 8 June presidential polls, said.

Students applauded Khatami by shouting such slogans as "Khatami, Khatami, we love you!" and "Khatami, Khatami, we support you."

On the upcoming June polls, Khatami said, "The people will decide, and, whatever it decides, it will act responsibly."

Khatami, who swept to office in 1997 with nearly 70 per cent of the popular vote, is challenged by nine conservative candidates...

Student leader release urged

The students called on Khatami to intervene release an OFU leader questioning the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i.

Waving Afshari's photos, they shouted "Khatami is dutybound to help release Afshari" and "Afshari must be released." Khatami did not make any reference to Afshari.

In January, Afshari was slapped with a six-year jail term for earlier taking part in an "anti-Islamic" conference in Germany which the judiciary said was aimed at overthrowing the clerical regime.

Afshari, held in solitary confinement for over five months, had earlier been shown on state television with an unbearded face, apologizing to Ayatollah Khamene'i for his "mistakes"...

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Shahrzad
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posted June 03, 2001 11:51     Click Here to See the Profile for Shahrzad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Islamic republic's non-Muslims stand behind Khatami

TEHRAN, June 2 (AFP) - The 300,000 non-Muslims voting in Iran's presidential election next Friday are expected to side en masse with reformist incumbent Mohammad Khatami, although their political leaders generally refrain from taking sides in the Islamic republic's politics. The largest non-Muslim group voting Friday, when Khatami faces nine mostly conservative rivals, is the Armenians, who has up to 250,000 members and is Iran's best organized minority.

"It's good that there are a number of candidacies; that proves the loyalty of different currents to the system. Armenians will participate en masse in the June 8 vote, as they did in 1997, with 90 percent turnout," said Georgik Abrahamiam, an Armenian MP from the central city of Isfahan. "Armenians' rights are set by specific laws that aren't going to change with the election," said Abrahamiam, who said his concern was instead "economic and social development" to stop Armenian-Iranians' emigration to the West.

While Abrahamiam toes a carefully non-partisan line, most Armenians do not hide their enthusiasm for Khatami, swept to power with 70 percent of the vote in 1997 on a platform of reforming the conservative government and is widely expected to be elected to a second term. "Khatami gave us hope. He recognized us on the cultural and human levels. My family and friends will all vote for him," said Azad, a young Armenian woman.

Her enthusiasm is shared by Iran's 30,000 Assyro-Chaldeans, who practise an ancient form of Christianity linked to the Roman Catholic Church.

"In 1997, we all voted for him. We will do it again. He is good for us and he wants us to stay in Iran," said Assyro-Chaldean MP Yonathen Betcolia, unnerved by the large numbers of his community leaving for the United States.

Khatami last year even visited an Assyro-Chaldean church in the western city of Urumieh. "That was marvellous," Betcolia said.

But Assyro-Chaldeans are not without their criticisms of the president. They particularly resent that Christians are still barred from high administrative functions and from teaching.

"We now have no more than three schools instead of five. But we're listened to. We were given a budget. In Urumieh, a 30,000 square-meter area of land was given to us," Betcolia said.

Maurice Mottamed, the MP for Iran's 30,000 Jews, has not publicly backed any of the 10 presidential candidates.

"I shall vote because it's my national duty... The next president must deal foremost with economic problems, which are serious," Mottamed said.

But he also expressed concern for his community in light of the trial last year of 13 Jews in the southern city of Shiraz. Most of them were condemned of spying on behalf of Israel, in a trial condemned internationally as unfair.

Like the Christians, most Iranian Jews seem to prefer Khatami. "He has started a dialogue with minorities and we trust him," said Esghagh, a student.

The reformist president also seems to be favored by Iran's 30,000 Zoroastrians, who practice the faith of pre-Islamic Persia.

"The next president will have to develop the economy and work on social progress and international relations," said MP Khosro Dabestani, who called Zorastrians "pure Iranians".

Dabestani expressed no preference among the candidates, but Ardeshir, a 30-year-old Tehran business executive, said he considered Khatami "the best candidate, even if he has not entirely succeeded".

"He considers us true believers, not as fire worshippers, as say certain newspapers. He grew up in (central) Ardakan, surrounded by some of us, without prejudice," he said.

The Iranian constitution, passed in 1979 after Islamic fundamentalists ousted the pro-Western shah, stipulates constitutional representation for the country's Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities.

It however takes no account of Iran's largest non-Muslim community, the Bahais, who according to the US State Department number nearly 350,000.

Iran launched a brutal campaign against the Bahais following the 1979 revolution, leaving some 200 followers of the universalist faith dead.

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Shahrzad
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Iran's Khatami rallies first-time voters as his campaign vows victory

TEHRAN, June 2 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was holding a rally for first-time voters Saturday, as his campaign said opinion polls showed him well on the way to re-election on June 8. With 15-year-olds able to vote, Khatami was bidding to solidify the heavy youth support which helped sweep him to office in 1997 with an 1130 GMT rally aimed at those eligible to cast their ballots for the first time.

The moderate cleric has repeatedly insisted that his programme of liberalising reforms, popular with youth but hampered by strong opposition from establishment conservatives, is the only way forward for the Islamic republic.

"Nothing will stop the movement," Khatami told some 300 members of the nation's largest pro-reform student group, the Office to Consolidate Unity (OCU), on Friday.

But in keeping with his non-confrontational style, which has left some supporters claiming he has not done enough to defend the embattled reform movement, Khatami made no direct reference to arrested OCU leader Ali Afshari.

"I know that students and many other people have recently had problems," Khatami said.

Afshari was arrested in December after calling for a public referendum on the all-encompassing powers of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- a challenge to the leader's authority illegal under Iranian law.

Last month Afshari confessed on state television to working against the regime, and apologised to Khamenei and the Iranian people. Despite the setbacks to his reform movement -- including the closure of some 40 newspapers and journals and the arrest of dozens of journalists, opposition figures and allies -- Khatami's campaign said Saturday he would easily win a second term in office.

"Our initial evaluations show that the gap is widening between Khatami and the other candidates," said campaign director Ahmad Robati. Robati said the campaign's research showed conservative former labour minister Ahmad Tavakoli a likely second-place finisher, while pro-reform MP Ahmad Bourghani insisted Tavakoli would be beaten by a massive margin.

"What we can say at this stage is that Khatami will have no problem getting 18 million votes, and if the undecided choose to vote at the last minute, they will vote for Khatami," Bourghani told reporters.

Some 42 million people are eligible to vote on Friday.

Reformists fear even Khatami's re-election will be seen as a victory for conservatives if he falls far short of the nearly 70 percent mandate he won four years ago.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh said a Khatami win was certain, "but we hope to have a massive vote in favour of the president." "The more votes he has, the more he will follow with determination the reforms."

Conservatives have stepped up their attacks on Khatami's social reforms in the run-up to the election, with clerics warning that the nation's youth -- who account for two-thirds of the population -- are turning away from Islam.

"Girls and boys both like to show off their beauty, but with the way we're heading, a fire will be sparked that will burn not only them, but will also burn society and burn the regime," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said two weeks ago.

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Shahrzad
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Cleric fires last salvo at Iran's Khatami

The Financial Times
By Guy Dinmore in Qom

June 1 2001 16:45GMT

Iran's faithful, packed into the main mosque in the holy city of Qom at the last Friday prayers before voters go to the polls, heard a scathing attack on the record of the pro-reform administration of President Mohammad Khatami.

Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, one of the most outspoken and conservative of Iran's senior Shia Moslem clerics, told worshippers they were free to choose among the 10 presidential candidates on June 8. But he urged them not to vote for an "impotent and impious" man as he launched into a stinging indictment of the administration.

"We have never had such a number of young people who are drug addicts and ignorant of religion, like hooligans, as in recent years. I don't know how this has happened," he declared.

He asked how it was possible that Iran had enjoyed its highest oil revenues in years but also had "the highest unemployment, the highest inflation, depravity and disasters".

Worshippers leaving the mosque echoed the ayatollah's words. One woman, tightly wrapped in her enveloping black chador, spoke of the bad hejab, or Islamic dress, of women and "disorder" in the country.

"If Khatami is re-elected then the situation will worsen from every aspect," a young man added.

While Ayatollah Meshkini's sermon illustrated the intense opposition to Mr Khatami from the conservative establishment, it also left people with a sense of confusion as the loose coalition of hardline parties has so far not made clear which, if any, of his nine rivals it backs.

Supporters of Ahmad Tavakoli, a former labour minister, said he had the backing of the powerful Feziyeh seminary in Qom and of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But campaign officials said they could not confirm this. Mr Tavakoli was due to visit Qom late yesterday.

The clerics of Qom, Iran's most important centre of religious learning, are not united, however, as Yusef Sanei, one of the country's 12 or so grand ayatollahs, made clear in a rare interview.

"We agree with Mr Khatami's policies of freedom and religion with democracy," he told the Financial Times.

While Ayatollah Meshkini spoke of the government being appointed by God, Ayatollah Sanei said the people were responsible for electing all senior figures, directly or indirectly, and that no one stood above the constitution. "Imposing opinions and dictatorship is hated in Islam," he declared.

He also criticised the house arrest of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who has been confined to his home in Qom since 1997 for challenging the credentials of the supreme leader.

Close to Ayatollah Sanei's religious centre, supporters of Mr Khatami packed into a meeting hall to listen to Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was stripped by the conservative-controlled judiciary of his position as deputy interior minister and head of the Election Headquarters administering the polls.

He was confident that Mr Khatami would secure 60-70 per cent of the vote.

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Vatandoost
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posted June 04, 2001 09:21     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Banned opposition group backs Khatami

Iranmania.Com
June 3, 2001

The banned liberal opposition movement has thrown its support behind moderate President Mohammad Khatami's re-election bid in Friday's presidential polls. In separate statements published in the reformist Hambastigi paper Sunday, 11 academics and activists close to the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) said a vote for Khatami would help guarantee the future of the reforms.

"Vote for Khatami in order to ensure the permanence of reforms and to reinforce the bases of national sovereignty," the statements said.

Signatories included Abdolali Bazargan, son of Iran's former prime minister Mehdi Bazargan who founded the IFM and who headed the provisional government set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution, as well as current IFM head Ibrahim Yazdi.

Meanwhile, the Jebhe-Melli, or National Front -- a nationalist movement founded in Iran in the 1950s -- said Khatami was the "best choice" and called for a massive turnout June 8 in order to "realise democracy and pursue reforms."

The Tehran revolutionary court's crackdown on the IFM in April led to the arrest of 42 people linked to the group on charges of plotting to overthrow the clerical regime.

Several have since been released on bail, according to the press and unofficial sources. The IFM, which had been tolerated despite being under a longtime ban, has effectively been closed down since March.

IFM head Yazdi is currently in the United States for medical treatment and is being prosecuted by the courts here on charges of acting against national security, a charge which could carry the death penalty.

Mehdi Bazragan's son-in-law, Mohsen Mohagheghi, was also ordered detained in May along with another influential IFM member, Amir Khoramm.
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Note from Vatandoost- These are the same people who helped Khomaine establish his governoment. There is no difference between them and the current governoment. Their only issue with Khamanai is why they are not given a role in the governoment. These people care more about preserving Islam than helping people.

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Vatandoost
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posted June 04, 2001 09:28     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In austere Iran shrine town, most favour Khatami

By Paul Taylor

QOM, Iran, June 3 (Reuters) - In the shadow of the golden dome of the shrine of Saint Fatimah Massoumeh, young Muslim religious students stride purposefully to their seminary classes, elegant in their flowing robes and turbans.

Qom is a one-company town, and religion is its business.

Five days before a presidential election, the talk among the young generation of Iran's dominant clerics in this dusty holy city, once home to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is of how to reconcile Islam and freedom.

Some say President Mohammad Khatami, a mid-ranking reformist cleric in office for the last four years, has found the right formula for modernising the country and opening up to the world while preserving Islamic values.

Others say things have gone too far, too fast under Khatami, despite the vigilance of conservative clerics who still hold many levers of power.

"I believe they talk too much about freedom, to the extent that unfortunately some people still don't know the real meaning of Islamic freedom and abuse it," said Nader Yousefi, a student at the Fayziyeh seminary.

He said he would vote for conservative former Labour Minister Ahmad Tavakoli.

But random interviews and a local opinion poll suggest most of Qom's 600,000 registered voters will cast their ballots for Khatami on Friday.

64 PERCENT FOR KHATAMI?

Outside the shrine, a newspaper seller displayed a startling headline: 64 percent of voters in this austere centre of Shi'ite pilgrimage plan to vote for Khatami, according to a poll in the local "Payam-e Qom" daily.

"That's right. And I'll vote Khatami too," said the elderly newspaper seller, leaning on a motorbike.

A cluster of clerics, street urchins and passers-by gawked at the headline as a young boy holding a budgerigar sold fortune cards beneath a giant portrait of Khomeini and his son Ahmad.

Can the smiling president who espouses a "love thine enemy" philosophy embracing pluralism, civil society and the rule of law really have captured the ideological epicentre of the 1979 Islamic revolution?

Qom is home to such far-right men of God as Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who fulminates weekly against cultural decadence and is reported to have boasted of issuing fatwas (religious orders) ordering the death of dissidents.

Yet Mesbah Yazdi and his disciples seem increasingly isolated among fellow clerics.

"In every religion, you see some extreme fundamentalists, some traditionalists and some modernists," explained Hashem Milani, a 25-year-old seminary student.

"Mr Khatami is in the middle ground, far removed from both religious fanaticism and excessive freedom. I support him," Milani said.

"Well I'm voting Tavakoli," said a bearded young man in a black shirt. "There is too much freedom now. Young people are spoiled," he said.

"It's only thanks to Khatami that you are free to speak," retorted a tall, spotty youth, prompting a brief but heated argument.

"Not so, we've had freedom for 22 years," said the man in the black shirt, citing the period since revolutionaries overthrew autocratic Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

"That's not true. You'll see on Friday, we are going to repeat the same surprise as four years ago -- a massive turnout for Khatami," the spotty youth replied.

KHATAMI AS GORBACHEV?

A block away from the shrine, an exhibition staged by the hardline Basij Islamic volunteer forces drawn from religious colleges seeks to warn Iranians against the dangers that led to the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

The show, on display in eight Iranian cities, depicts former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a hapless puppet in the hands of the United States and juxtaposes images of his fall with Western media headlines praising Khatami.

The underlying message seems to be that if Iranians are not careful, Khatami's liberal rule will hasten the end of the Islamic Republic or even the breakup of Iran.

"The aim is to warn our people of the plots and conspiracies of the Western powers in their effort to undermine independent countries," said Amir Ladani, 25, one of the organisers.

"But as our supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) has said: 1) Khatami isn't Gorbachev; 2) Iran isn't the Soviet Union; 3) Islam isn't communism," he said.

Just in case, he said he would vote Tavakoli.

At the offices of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel Lankarani, the revered sage's son, a mid-ranking cleric, played down the differences between Khatami's version of freedom and Mesbah Yazdi's vision of Islamic government.

"Everyone agrees freedom must be within the framework of Islam, but there are different interpretations and this is natural," Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Fazel Lankarani said in an interview.

"For example, some people believe the freedoms given in cinema and culture are permissible in Islam. Others believe it is against 'Islamic freedom'," he said.

"But no one in our country says we have to have absolute freedom, and no one says we should have no freedom at all."

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Ardalan
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posted June 04, 2001 10:49     Click Here to See the Profile for Ardalan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Support for Khatami looming days ahead of polls

Tehran, June 3, IRNA -- Barely five days ahead of the closely-watched presidential polls, scheduled for June 8, people without any or of various political affiliations have voiced firm support for incumbent President Mohammad Khatami, urging people to vote for the mild-mannered cleric.

Some 120 MP's and 340 former MP's have released a statement, garnering support for President Khatami who is a clear favorite to win the polls against nine challengers, said to be on the conservative camp.

The reformist daily Hambastegi reported Sunday over 17 affiliates of the now banned Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI), recently released on bail, have in a statement called on the people to vote for Khatami to help "reforms go ahead."

"Considering the national interests and stressing legal and amicable activities, we will vote for Khatami," the statement said.

Among the signatories are the FMI chief Ebrahim Yazdi, currently in the United States for medical care, who has been ordered to return home by Tehran's revolutionary court to face the charge of acting against national security.

Around 40 people, close to FMI were arrested earlier last month and remain in detention on various charges, including "having clandestine contacts with foreign diplomats."

Meanwhile, Iran's banned National Front, fielding supporters of former prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq whose government was toppled by a U.S.-backed coup, have called on the people to massively turn out in polls and make a "proper choice."

"They have called on people to vote for Khatami in a bid to help institutionalize democracy and rule of law in the society," Hambastegi said.

In another sign of support for Khatami, major pro-reform Tehran papers will appear on the newsstands Monday and Tuesday, both national holidays.

The directors of reformist Norouz, Aftab-e Yazd, Seday-e Edalat, Hambastegi and Hayat-e No have said they would publish their papers "to keep people abreast of the decisive event of presidential polls."

Khatami, who swept to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote, is challenged by nine conservative candidates, including Defense Minister Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani as well as former labor minister Ahmad Tavakoli.

Other contenders in the race are Vice President Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, former vice president Mansour Razavi and two other former ministers -- Hassan Ghafouri-Fard and Ali Fallahian. The list also includes former MP Shahabeddin Sadr, conservative academician Abdollah Jasbi and lawyer Mahmud Kashani.

Each candidate has been given an equal slot on Iranian TV and radio to present his platform for a future Islamic Republic.

Khatami's challengers have largely aimed their attacks on his handling of the economy, marked by high unemployment, low investment and a bloated public sector.

Khatami has repeatedly urged patience, but Iran's young electorate -- more than half the 42.1 million eligible voters are under 30 -- is demanding more civil freedoms and a more dynamic economy to provide urgently needed jobs.

The centrist Executives of Construction party endorsed Khatami's candidacy but criticized his early economic policies at a news conference on Saturday.

The leftist Islamic Revolution Mujahideen Organization, another part of Khatami's coalition, has called the election a referendum on reform, causing an uproar among the clerical establishment, which still wields substantial power.

A group of senior clerics in the holy city of Qom have hit back against them, saying: "The slogan of turning the election into a referendum is a deviationist move used by certain figures for political gain."

It accused the reformists of exploiting election fever "to hurt the religious and national pride of the Iranian people and strike a blow at national interests".

Khatami's campaign headquarters has announced that the president would hold the only news conference of the campaign on Tuesday.

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Ardalan
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Iranian Elections: Where the Victor May Not Win

The New York Times
By Elaine Sciolino and Nazila Fathi

June 3, 2001

WASHINGTON - IMAGINE an American president standing before a cheering crowd to announce his candidacy for re-election with these words: "Personally, I'd prefer to be somewhere else." That's what President Mohammad Khatami of Iran said on May 4. Even though he is the clear front- runner in the election, which takes place Friday, the line was no joke. He even broke into tears several times during his speech.

It said a lot about the state of democracy in Iran today.

The presidential election is part of a continuing guerrilla war between conservatives, who are determined to preserve a strict interpretation of Islamic rule, and reformers who have coalesced around Mr. Khatami's calls for more political openness and greater personal freedom. The battle has been so closely drawn over the last four years that the election itself is not expected to usher in dramatic new initiatives or climactic change; rather it will be read as an indicator of the reformers' strength or weakness as the fight continues.

The political landscape has changed dramatically from what it was four years ago, when Mr. Khatami charmed his way into the electorate's heart with pledges to create a civil society and promote tolerance of divergent views and the rule of law instead of arbitrary justice in the name of Islam. He had spotted something that the other ruling clerics had missed - a yearning, especially among Iran's many young people and its women, for a more relaxed lifestyle and a freer political atmosphere. More than 80 percent of those eligible voted, overwhelmingly rejecting the choice of the conservatives and delivering a resounding demand for change.

Four years later, Mr. Khatami has found that sweeping changes have been hard to deliver. He has been stripped of much of his authority and has been unable to protect his partisans. Some of his ministers have been removed by his enemies' clever maneuvering. Most of the reformist publications that appeared after his victory have been shut down, and many of their editors and other intellectuals imprisoned. After a wave of intimidation like that, the election this year seems like the dark denouement of a grand experiment gone wrong.

But is it?

On one level the campaign seems hardly a campaign at all. Mr. Khatami's nine opponents are all trusted members of the ruling elite, with all others having been carefully weeded out by the Council of Guardians, which approves nominations.

There isn't a prominent conservative among the candidates. Instead, the challengers seem intent on keeping the campaign low-key in an effort to embarrass Mr. Khatami with a low turnout. Meanwhile, they try to win over some of Mr. Khatami's young constituents (the voting age is 15, and seven million people out of a population of 65 million are estimated to be first-time voters) and appropriate some of his language about democracy.

Abdollah Jasbi, president of Iran's Azad University, for example, is wooing young voters with free soft drinks, sandwiches and promises to lower fees at his university and shorten military service. A poster at his campaign headquarters also depicts him as a man of the world, featuring images of President George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, Mozart, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

ALI SHAMKANI, Iran's defense minister, declares, "I am worried about having five million unemployed youth on our hands in four years." And Ali Fallahinan, a former intelligence minister who has been indicted in absentia on terrorism charges in Germany, says: "I am basically pro-youth. Younger people are more enthusiastic and have revolutionary inclinations."

Mr. Khatami, meanwhile, seems to be walking in place. He has admitted that he lacks the power to carry out his primary responsibility - implementing the Constitution - and has declared that "dictatorship continues to haunt us all." Last Monday, in a speech at a sports stadium, he mostly repeated familiar themes, and after half an hour many in the audience drifted away. They had heard it all before.

Still, no matter how glum the voters, many still yearn for freer expression and more democracy. Maryam Khosravi, a 21-year-old nursing student in Tehran, summed up the last four years this way: "We have satellite TV at our house." It may sound like a small thing, but in a country where Western culture is still sometimes cast as evil, it is not.

On a deeper level, Mr. Khatami has transformed the terms of political discourse. "The campaign slogans of the candidates are nation- oriented rather than religion- or tradition-oriented, as they used to be," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a political scientist in Tehran. "They talk about democracy, people's rights. This is the language first articulated by the reformers."

And the reform movement itself, with its many representatives in Parliament, is certainly not dead. Recently it was able to turn aside a not very subtle effort by the conservative clerics on the Council of Guardians to suppress voting, especially by the young. The council had ruled that only Iranians with photographs on their birth certificates could vote, effectively excluding most teenagers. Parliament blocked the ruling.

No one doubts that Mr. Khatami will win the election. The question is by how much, and what meaning can be read into a decline in enthusiasm for him. So the big political debate is over whether to vote.

SOME Iranians want a boycott, either because Mr. Khatami's has failure to deliver sweeping change, or because they believe it would weaken the Islamic Republic's credibility. But the main reformist organization, which is headed by Mr. Khatami's brother, is planning parties and concerts in the final days of the campaign to get out the vote, insisting that a show of great support for Mr. Khatami would strengthen the reform movement. Given the volatility of Iranian politics, it would be foolhardy to try to predict the turnout.

In any event, it seems unlikely that people will take to the streets to oppose the Islamic state, since many still bear the scars of revolution, war with Iraq and the stifling of demonstrations and riots in 1999.

Anyway, the reform movement is still calling for dialogue. "The reform movement is a movement for civil society, not street protest," said Hamid-Reza Jalaeipour, who published a reformist newspaper before it was shut down. "The election is the path for change that has the least cost to the people."

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Iran: no stopping the tide of change

The Independent
By Simon Pitts in Tehran

3 June 2001

More than 800 hopefuls initially registered to stand in the Iranian presidential elections, which take place this Friday. The list included businessmen, many non-clerics and even 24 women. From this, the country's conservative Council of Guardians of the Revolution, who vet applicants for their suitability and Islamic credentials, eventually approved just 10 candidates, including the incumbent moderate President Mohammad Khatami. They rejected the outspoken reformist Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, seen as Mr Khatami's only serious potential challenger, as well as all of the female candidates. Of the nine opponents who are on the list, none is considered a credible challenge to the President. But they might eat into his share of the vote.

The issue in this election is not whether the 57-year-old Mr Khatami will win, but by how much of a majority. Ever since he gained office his fragile programme of political reform has been obstructed and frustrated. Though highly popular with an electorate desperate for change, that programme hasn't played well with religious hardliners who control many levers of the state's power and jealously protect what they regard as the successes of the revolutionary Islamic system.

Their tactics have included the intimidation of Mr Khatami's political allies and the jailing of his friends in the press. At this election their principal tactic is seen as being to attempt to split his vote as widely as possible.

Three of the candidates are likely to attract significant public support. They are the Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani, hardliner Dr Abdollah Jasbi and the former Minister of Labour Ahmad Tavakoli, who won four million votes when he ran for President in 1993. Although none offers the same hope for social reform to the coalition of young people, students and women that elected Mr Khatami in his landslide victory of 1997, all three of them have avoided being claimed by any of the major conservative factions in the country. All have therefore avoided being perceived as opponents of the pro-reform mood.

While the consensus among analysts is that none will be elected, the more votes they receive the weaker Mr Khatami will emerge when the results are announced next weekend. To get the strongest mandate for further reform, he needs the same high proportion of the vote that he won last time: 70 per cent. But the mood is very different today from four years ago. Back then his campaign had raised hopes for far-reaching social change in Iran. But under his presidency change has neither moved far nor fast enough for people frustrated with high inflation, joblessness and restrictions on freedoms. The electorate is questioning his will and ability to change things.

Announcing his candidacy after months of speculation, tears ran down the President's cheeks as he read a statement referring to his duty to serve the people. He is the only leader of a reform movement that gives the impression it cannot fully believe its right to exist or trust in its modest successes.

Ironically, although they are fighting his reforms, the regime's powerful conservatives also desperately need Mr Khatami. His candidacy legitimises the system and without it the worry is that the electorate, frustrated by the lack of representation of their needs, could return to the politics of the street. Though every Iranian you talk to shudders at the thought of another revolution, the extraordinary demographics of the country mean that half of the population is under the age of 30. Clerics remember well that it was this age group that forged the Islamic regime in bloodshed 22 years ago.

The conservatives are walking a delicate line. They want Mr Khatami elected but without the overwhelming endorsement of the voters which would allow him greater room to dismantle the system.

A while ago the well-known hardline cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi said: "If anyone comes up to you and tells you they've got a different interpretation of Islam, tell them to shut up and punch them in the face." The speech was aimed at Mr Khatami and his supporters and while rhetorical violence is common in political speeches, its brutality reveals conservatives' fears that the tide has turned permanently against them.

Just over a year ago the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was humiliated in parliamentary elections when moderates took control of that part of the state. And since Mr Khatami's election, Iranians have heard the consistent tick of small-scale reform. Only last week parliament introduced a new law stipulating that political trials must now be held in front of a jury.

Conservatives see unwelcome change in many aspects of Iran's cultural life. Recently a very few adventurous young women have been wearing jeans rather than the all-over black cloak in the more affluent parts of the capital Tehran. On the mountain tracks of Tochal to the north, students openly chat each other up on the holy day of Friday as others pass by carrying cassette players blaring out techno dance music. These days fewer and fewer of them are detained or arrested for walking hand in hand with a boy or girlfriend.

Ayatollah Khomeini outlawed mixed-sex dancing, women were not allowed to play a musical instrument in men's company and any kind of pop music that was considered sexually stimulating was banned. But today Iran has a licensed pop group called Arian which features two women, one of whom plays guitar. Their songs are an incongruous mix. Lyrics urge, for example, the audience to value their grandparents, but this message is set to an up-tempo arrangement in the style of a European pop song.

The country could not be more finely poised. The regime's conservatives overwhelmingly want the reform process slowed down. The reformists overwhelmingly want it speeded up. And both are relying on signals from the public to understand how far they can go. All of them need one another.

* Simon Pitts and Kristine Pommert are senior producers at BBC World Service. A series of special news reports on the election and features about life in Iran continues this week on BBC World Service. Persian speakers can access extensive election coverage on

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