The last time Iran had a presidential vote, millions took to the streets calling foul when the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner. Four years on, the Islamic Republic has not yet fully recovered from the ensuing political heart-attack. After a year of demonstrations and repression, the battle for Iran’s future was won by Iran’s conservative hardliners loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Their reformist rivals were sidelined: Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the thwarted reformists’ favourite who claimed to have won the 2009 election, remains under house arrest, along with a fellow candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. Politics, even within the confines of the Islamic state, is as polarised as ever. Now the reformists are pondering how to pick themselves up for another fight: the first round of the coming presidential poll, on June 14th. Eight candidates are running, following a purge of hundreds of other aspirants by the Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and lawyers, half of them appointed by Mr Khamenei. The council controversially barred a former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom reformers would probably have backed, from running. Two reform-minded candidates remain: Hassan Rohani and Muhammad Reza Aref, both of whom stayed silent during the tumult after the 2009 poll. The reformists are mulling over whether to throw in their lot with one of them.
Their likelier choice is Mr Rohani. A 64-year-old clergyman who was educated partly in Glasgow, he was Iran’s leading negotiator on nuclear affairs when the reform-inclined Muhammad Khatami served as president from 1997-2005. In the television debates featuring the candidates in the poll’s run-up, he has criticised Mr Ahmadinejad for fiscal ineptitude and has bemoaned the country’s stifling “security atmosphere”. Mr Aref, educated partly in Stanford, California, shares much of Mr Rohani’s world view and has said that “violations” occurred in the 2009 election. He has lambasted Mr Ahmadinejad for denigrating the protesters who called for reform as “dust and dirt”.
But Messrs Rohani and Aref face formidable conservative opponents. Saeed Jalili, widely considered the front-runner, is a stalwart disciple of the supreme leader and is campaigning on the revolutionary rhetoric of “resistance” as well as traditional Muslim values. Though he lacks a base of his own, Mr Jalili, who wrote a dissertation on the Prophet Muhammad’s foreign policy, is expected to win a big chunk of votes if Mr Khamenei openly endorses him. Rumours abound in Tehran that Mr Ahmadinejad may also at the last minute rally his dwindling loyalists to Mr Jalili’s cause, perhaps to ensure that, if Mr Jalili were to get the job, there would be no risk of legal recriminations against the outgoing president as a result of his tempestuous eight years in office.
Full Article: Iran’s presidential election: You never know | The Economist.