Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Iran's police chief resigns to prepare presidential bid

Tehran Times:
Iran's high-profile and popular national police chief, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has quit his post amid widespread expectations he intends to stand in this year's presidential election. READ MORE

According to Iranian newspaper reports on Monday, Qalibaf handed in his resignation to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Sunday -- in line with a general understanding that serving members of the security forces cannot directly enter politics.

Iran's presidential election is due to take place on June 17, and prospective candidates must register between May 10 and 17.

A former head of the air force wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and frontline veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, 43-year-old Qalibaf still regularly moonlights as an Airbus pilot for national carrier Iran Air.

His revolutionary credentials are also matched by his achievements in academia, as Qalibaf holds a doctorate in geopolitics and is considered an expert on economic and financial crime.

Qalibaf -- who is widely seen as a pragmatic conservative -- was appointed chief of police after student unrest in 1999.

Since then he has set about revamping the force, acquiring a huge fleet of Mercedes Benz police cars and a wardrobe of spruced-up uniforms. Under his command, women have also joined the police for the first time.

His populist image has been reinforced by accounts of him traveling to Iranian cities in plain clothes and getting himself arrested as part of a personal bid to challenge and root out corrupt officers.

Iran's incumbent president Mohammad Khatami elected in 1997 and again in 2001, is just months from the end of his final term in office. The Iranian constitution allows presidents to serve a maximum of two consecutive terms.

Several prominent conservative politicians have already entered the race.

Long-serving former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now a top advisor to supreme leader, has announced he intends to stand, as has Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards and Ali Larijani, a former state broadcasting boss.

They have been referred to in the Iranian press as coming from the "fundamentalist camp".

But the main element of suspense in the race surrounds the possible entry of powerful former president and top cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is openly mulling standing but has yet to make a formal announcement. He has been presenting himself as more of a moderate.

Although short on independent opinion polls, several Iranian papers have placed Rafsanjani as the most popular prospective candidate. However, Qalibaf has begun to gain a stronger profile in recent weeks amid signals that he would also stand.

Qalibaf is scheduled to give a press conference on Sunday, when a formal announcement is expected.

Representing the beleaguered reformists -- lacking popularity because of President Khatami's meager track record in pushing through reforms -- are Mostafa Moin, a former higher education minister, and Mehdi Karubi, a former parliament speaker.