Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad was perhaps the most conservative of the seven candidates who were permitted to compete in the presidential race. Ahmadinejad resurrected the fervor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution during the campaign by saying Iran "did not have a revolution in order to have democracy, but to have an Islamic government." The Rafsanjani campaign attempted to characterize Ahmadinejad as an extremist intent on rolling back reform. They called Ahmadinejad a fundamentalist who planned to bring back a Taliban-style of governing to Iran.

Ahmadinejad, a hardline conservative and Revolutionary Guard veteran, mounted a surprisingly strong challenge with a populist message aimed at the economically disadvantaged. He promised to strengthen social safety nets, offer subsidized food and housing for the poor, and institute monthly stipends for citizens. Much of Ahmadinejad's support in the first round of voting came from poorer areas such as South Tehran.

Ahmadinejad appeared to have a serious ideological and moral opposition to Israel, and the secular American culture and society. In a 7 June 2005 interview on state television, Ahmadinejad said Iran was the target of a destructive Western cultural onslaught. He claimed the West intended to undermine the self-confidence of Iranian managers and influence the young. To counter this, he said teachers must have greater access to resources.

During the campaign, in mid-June 2005, Ahmadinejad told a news conference he could not foresee improved ties with any country that "seeks hostility" against Iran, a possible reference to the United States. "The US administration cut off ties unilaterally to lay waste to the Islamic republic," he argued. "They want to restore them today for the same reason."

Ahmadinejad, in comments that drew sharp criticism from the Foreign Ministry, accused Iran's nuclear negotiators on 20 June 2005 of being weak and bowing to European pressure at the negotiation table. According to Ahmadinejad, "those who are handling the talks are terrified, and before they even sit down at the negotiating table they retreat 500 kilometers.... A popular and fundamentalist government will quickly change that."

Rafsanjani had been endorsed by Iran's top nuclear officials. Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Rafsanjani was the only person who could positively present Iran's position, given his influence, moderate views and political clout. Rafsanjani loyalist Hassan Rowhani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said Iran needed a powerful and experienced president to successfully handle the issue, an open reference to Rafsanjani.

Ahmadinejad's campaign issued a statement which described Iran's nuclear program as "a flood which cannot be stopped by a match stick ... It's impossible to stop a nation's scientific progress with a bunch of irrelevant words ... We will hold talks from a rational point of view and if they accept our legitimate right we'll cooperate ... The analysts say no country, no matter how powerful they are, can attack Iran. It would be suicidal for a country to attack Iran... so we must not bend to threats." The statement warned that Iran would not accept protracted negotiations and "the kind of games they have played with Palestinians." Ahmadinejad said that Iran's access to nuclear technology was the fruit of the nation's progress, stressing no one could prevent a nation from progressing.

At the same time, during the run-off election in June 2005, Ahmadinejad stated he would continue dialogue with Europe over Iran's nuclear program. "We will continue the current policies of the Islamic Republic. In principle, dialogue with Europe, Asia, and Africa is within the framework of our foreign policy. And of course, in order to defend the rights of our nation, we will continue the [nuclear] dialogue [with Europe]," Ahmadinejad said. Commenting on the country's foreign policy, Ahmadinejad said Iran was interested in friendly ties with all world states and nations. Tehran was ready to cooperate with any government that did not have a hostile attitude toward the Iranian nation, he said.

Ahmadinejad had complained of "uncontrolled" cultural policies, and accused organised networks of "propogating decadence." Some supporters anticipated that girls would have to wear the proper hijab, access to improper websites would be blocked, West-struck (gharbzadeh) professors would be banned, and satellite receivers would be eliminated.

On 22 June 2005, Ahmadinejad denied rumors that he would force women to wear the head-to-toe Islamic covering called a chador. He said Iran's main problems are unemployment and housing, not what to wear. "Are hairstyles the real problem [of our youth]? They can cut their hair the way they want," Ahmadinejad said. "It's none of our business. We have to take care of the real problems of the country. The government should put order in the economy and create calm."

With it appearing that Ahmadinejad might have a serious chance for success in the election many observers looked to analyze his campaign platform. In practice, the control of foreign policy, nuclear policy, and the main economic policies were already within the power of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sources speculated that from the beginning, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had supported Ahmadinejad because he did not want an equal partner or rival as president. The presidency was the last holdout of Iran's reformists, and the victory of Ahmadinejad granted total control of Iran's state institutions to its hard-liners. Khamenei controlled the Majlis, the judiciary, the Army, the radio and television, and with Ahmadinejad, the presidency as well. The conservative political establishment made a decision late in the campaign to support Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad, more closely tied to Khamenei than either Rafsanjani or Khatami, was unlikely to challenge the Guardian Council, particularly given the alleged Guardians Council support for his presidential bid.

Ahmadinejad's election strengthened the "theocracy with a democratic face" aspects of the Iranian regime with westernized reformers almost completely marginalized. Ahmadinejad's version of reform called for a focus on Islamic socialism, rejecting both the privileged (and corrupt) Bazaari merchant class and market-oriented westernized technocracy. Expects predicted that Iran might become less willing to do oil and gas deals with foreign companies.

Analysts suggested that the president's background in the Revolutionary Guards and Basij Forces meant that, once elected, he would support pervasive state control of society and continue the struggle against ideological enemies.

Ahmadinejad said on 18 June 2005 that he was against World Trade Organization membership if it would hurt Iran's economy. Ahmadinejad was not enthusiastic about privatization because it would create unemployment. His win was not expected to be positive for the stock market and the investment community as his rhetoric aggravated investors' worst fears.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:05 ZULU