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Musavi's Candidacy Enlivens, Complicates Iran's Presidential Race

March 11, 2009

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi has impeccable revolutionary credentials and is widely considered to be an honest politician. An architect by profession, as well as a painter, Musavi is also a member of Iran’s Expediency Council and the head of the Iranian Academy of Arts.

He is widely respected for the way he managed the country during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.

Musavi now says that issues that had prevented him from running for president previously have now convinced him that his presence is necessary.

In comments that appeared to criticize the policies of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Musavi said on March 10 in announcing his candidacy: "We have to avoid wasting resources for short-term interests and unworthy political aims."

Some observers believe Mousavi’s presence in the race could undermine the reformist camp by splitting their support base. Others say his candidacy is tactical and aimed at gaining wider support for the reformist cause.

Musavi is now the third reformist to join the presidential race after former President Mohammad Khatami and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi.

Reformists, who are deeply concerned about the course Iran has taken under Ahmadinejad, accuse the Iranian president of mismanaging the economy and isolating Iran on the international scene. (While Ahmadinejad has not yet announced his candidacy, it would be highly unusual for an Iranian president not to run for a second term.)

Strengthen Reformist Camp

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, says Musavi could generate broad support from moderates, conservatives and older, former revolutionaries.

"[Musavi’s candidacy] will be welcomed by reformists, but at the same time it will make others happy or maybe even happier than the reformists -- those are the forces that are faithful to the Islamic republic and to the line of the late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini," Zibakalam says. "The policies of the past four years have worried those who are concerned about the future of the establishment."

Mohammad Soltanifar, a senior member of the moderate Etemad Melli party headed by Karrubi, has said that the presence of several pro-reform candidates will strengthen the reformist camp and could also encourage more voters to cast ballots on election day.

Khatami is said to have the support of intellectuals and young voters. Karrubi is reportedly popular in rural areas and among the poorer segments of society.

Mohammad Seifzadeh, the head of the Iranian Committee For Free and Fair Elections, tells RFE/RL that the presence of three well-known reformist candidates has sown confusion in the conservative camp ahead of the June 12 poll.

"Because of the presence of the three candidates, the conservative camp has not been able to make a right decision about a single candidate," Seifzadeh says. "It has prevented [the conservatives] from becoming united, so it has benefited the reformists so far."

Yet if the three main reformist candidates remain in the race, then Ahmadinejad is likely to remain president for a second term, Zibakalam says.

"If all the reformist candidates remain in the race and if they don’t manage to gain the silent voters -- the voters who in the past decided not to vote -- then I believe Ahmadinejad will easily win the election again because Ahmadinejad supporters are determined and they will vote anyway," he says.

Unify For Victory

Many observers, including Zibakalam, believe the reformist camp will unify shortly before the election in an effort to secure a victory.

Khatami has said in the past that he would not enter the race if Musavi were also in it. The former president finally announced his candidacy last month when Musavi had appeared reluctant to run.

Mohammd Ali Abtahi, a former vice president and close aide to Khatami, has described "rumors" that Khatami might withdraw in favor of Musavi as "immoral." He said Musavi's candidacy complicates election conditions, particularly for reformists.

Karrubi has said he is determined to stay in the race until the end. On March 9, the former parliament speaker blamed the proliferation of reformist candidates on the lack of time to build consensus around one candidate. But he added, “We should wait and see what time now brings.”

Seifzadeh believes the reformists will reach a compromise on a sole candidate/

“I believe that in the future only one reformist candidate will remain on the scene," he says. "It’s highly likely that it will be Khatami and the others will withdraw in his favor.”

Khatami and Karrubi have not yet officially reacted to Musavi’s candidacy.

All the election candidates must be approved by the conservative Guardian Council.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Iranian_PM_Musavi_Enters_Presidential_Race/1508249.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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