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Politics And Military

* Resurfacing Shock and Awe, why is this different?  Ali Behrooz

* Mr President, Barack Obama,  Ali Behrooz

* Iran’s Conservatives Are Deceiving Themselves  Tariq Alhomayed

* Just When it Ends in Basra, it Begins in Mosul!  Huda al Husseini

* Putin promises Iran continuity in relations: RIA  News Report

* New U.S. carrier in Gulf a 'reminder' to Iran: Gates  News Report

* Iran displays 1800 km-range missile  News Report

* U.S., Iraqi Forces Continue to Battle in Sadr City  News Report

* Iran Top Threat To Iraq, U.S. Says  News Report

* Sadr not U.S. enemy if he sticks to politics: Gates  News Report

* British fear US commander is beating the drum for Iran strikes  News Report

* Pakistan Mulls Talking with Terrorists  News Report

* Shia leader tries to contain militia  News Report

* Bush to maintain Iraq troop numbers  News Report

* McCain doesn't rule out preemptive war  News Report

* Winds of Change  Pablo Ouziel

* Obama Adviser Calls for Troops To Stay in Iraq Through 2010  News Report

* Iran helped end Iraq fighting: Iraq party adviser  News Report

* McCain's "war on terror" remix  News Report

* Saudi Arabia's justice minister departs for Tehran  News Report

* Deployment of Foreign Troops an Insult to Regional States  News Report

* Gun-shy America is losing the best chance to stop Iran  News Report

* Khatami rallies Iran reformists  News Report

* Iran says will soon hold talks with U.S. on Iraq  News Report

* Iran says has built new long-range missile  News Report

* U.S. military in Iraq says to release 9 Iranians  News Report

* U.S. sees decline in Iran-linked bombs found in Iraq  News Report

* Russia and China fall in line on Iran  News Report

* Iran letter sparks new fight between Clinton, Obama  News Report

* Bombing Iran will ensure world peace  News Report

* King Abdullah flies in to lecture us on terrorism  Robert Fisk

* Ahmadinejad to Visit S. Arabia mid Nov.  News Report

* Iranian Guard 'ready to defend revolution'  News Report

* Iran to give crushing response to possible attacks: minister  News Report

* Bush: Missile shield is meant to deter Iran  News Report

* Iran Accuses US of Manufacturing Genetic Weapons  News Report

* Blair: Terror threat like fascism  Tony Blair

* US arrogant attitudes pave way for 'World War III': Cleric  News Report

* Russia’s Putin hunts diplomatic solution in Iran  News Report

* Clinton says she would negotiate with Iran if elected president  News Report

* Britain 'on board' for US strikes on Iran  News Report

* Iran, sanctions and the rumours of war  News Report

* No Iran strike plans, says Blair  Tony Blair

* Gates: Diplomatic efforts to counter Iranian nuclear program are working  News Report

* McCain Jokes About Bombing Iran  Liz Sidoti

* Tehran expects update on cases of two Iranians murdered in France: MP  News Report

* Iran is not a safe haven for terrorists  News Report

* Iran at threat?  News Report

* Iran trying to recruit Israeli spies  News Report

* Iran: Signals on 5 Diplomats  News Report


Khatami rallies Iran reformists
[ News Report]  [2007-12-01 18:15:31]
[Source: FT - 29/11/07]


By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Mashhad

At a main crossroads in the holy city of Mashhad a blue hoarding welcomes Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former reformist president, as the “national pride”.

However, on the eve of Mr Khatami’s rally, the centrepiece of a three-day visit to Iran’s second-biggest city designed to build support before parliamentary elections in March, his political opponents cut the electricity supply, plunging his image into gloom – which is where his opponents would like the former president to stay.

The incident illustrates the intense battle already under way ahead of the March polls. Mr Khatami has become a figurehead for reformist campaigners and has suffered the ire of fundamentalist critics – supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad included.

Despite the billboard failure, and limited publicity in the local media, Mr Khatami is welcomed by about 10,000 supporters in a sports hall in Mashhad, most of whom are under 30 years of age. “Death to the dictator, hello to Khatami,” they chant.

“If a group resorts to force...and deceit...their ruling is not [religiously] legitimate,” Mr Khatami says, using language far less moderate than he would normally. He is referring to allegations that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad enjoyed the support of the revolutionary guards, the elite military force, for his presidential victory in 2005. “The worst corruption is not to let people cast their votes freely.”

Hundreds of emboldened protesters leave the hall and file out on to the streets. “Incompetent government! Resign!” they chant.

As they face riot police, the slogans change to: “Bullets, tanks and basijis [ideologically motivated militias] are no more frightening!” The protest breaks up with no arrests.

Mr Khatami has taken a lead role in co-ordinating reformist factions to help form a joint candidate list for the elections to the 290-seat parliament. While in Mashhad, home to 3m people, he held meetings with his former officials, behaving almost like the head of a shadow government.

In the absence of effective parties, two camps – one reformist, the other fundamentalist – have been trying to attract the support of different political groups to consolidate their votes and ensure that they put up unified fronts.

A big concern for the reformists is whether their candidates – who will begin registering for the elections in early January – will be disqualified, as some 2,000 were at the last parliamentary polls in 2004. The interior ministry and the Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, will vet candidates for loyalty to the constitution and to Islam.

The long process, which can leave candidates waiting until a week before polling day before they know if they can stand, has made planning difficult for reformists.

Mohammad-Sadegh Javadi-Hesar, a senior reformist, says: “About 50 per cent of our concern is about disqualifications and 25 per cent about the health of elections. This means we have to rely only on a quarter of our potential [candidates].”

“Some members of the Guardian Council and government see elimination of reformist thoughts [as] a religious duty, like praying,” says one reformist.

“Our reliance is on the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], who we hope will intervene to stop ­radicals.”

The greatest threat to the fundamentalists is not the qualification process but the criticism that the government has failed to curb high inflation and rising un­employment, as promised.

Analysts, anecdotally, say Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is losing public support because of rising prices, but they admit that floating voters may return to him if he offers new attractive promises.

The president’s high-profile provincial trips, criss-crossing the country offering to fund cheap loans, have been the cornerstone of his populist approach.

“The president gives money, toys and bicycles to low-income people the way caliphs were behaving centuries ago,” says Naser Amoli, a reformist. “This lets the government buy the recipients’ votes and buy time from others who hope to get the same later.”

The fundamentalists admit that reformist opponents offer a bigger challenge than four years ago, when, paradoxically, Mr Khatami was president. Javad Arian-Manesh, a fundamentalist parliamentarian from Mashhad, predicts they will win “a strong minority” but insists the fundamentalists will retain control – albeit weaker than the current 80 per cent.

Absent from the election campaign is any discussion of international tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme. Analysts say the subject is just too sensitive and not a daily concern for people worried about rising prices and unemployment.

But Gholam-Hossein El­ham, a government spokesman, issued a pre-election warning: “The enemy sees elections as the way for its ‘soft activities’,” Mr Elham told election officials. “The enemy’s soft war should be foiled, a main part of which is on your shoulders.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

 





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