Monday, June 13, 2005

Rafsanjani campaign ad angles for Iran youth vote

Amir Paivar, Reuters:
Presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani discussed fashion, sex and Islam in a rare televised chat with a panel of youngsters, ahead of an election marked by a battle for Iran's huge youth vote. READ MORE

The broadcast late on Saturday was a deftly-edited election campaign ad, but nevertheless was highly unusual in the Islamic state, where officials seldom expose themselves to such questioning by the young.

Like other conservative candidates in the race, Rafsanjani, a mid-ranking cleric, is trying to rebrand himself as a liberal in a country where half of the 67 million population is under 25 and the voting age is 15.

Rafsanjani, 70, who held the presidency between 1989 and 1997, told a panel of about 20 young men and women, some in all-enveloping black chador, some in colorful scarves, that they should have more choice in what they wear.

"Design and color depends on people's taste ... there should be clothes, but no nudity!" Rafsanjani told the round-table discussion group, which burst into laughter.

The Islamic Republic has strict rules on women's dress, ordering them to cover their hair and disguise the shape of their bodies. But restrictions relaxed somewhat after reformist President Mohammad Khatami took office in 1997.

Asked what he thought about relationships between the sexes, Rafsanjani said religion should be no barrier.

"In the Islam I know, if implemented, no one would feel limited in their instincts," said Rafsanjani who has in the past spoken in favor of temporary marriage -- a practice that allows Shi'ite Muslims to wed for as little as a few minutes.

The campaign ad contrasted with those of the other seven candidates, which have mostly consisted of straight interviews touching on issues ranging from unemployment to foreign policy.

Former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who most polls put second behind Rafsanjani, has perhaps the slickest campaign ads so far, featuring him co-piloting a commercial passenger jet and addressing town-hall style meetings.

Each candidate is allowed to air two half-hour ads on the state broadcasting network before Friday's vote.


Young Iranians and Rafsanjani laughed together at tame jokes about the wily elder statesman and quizzed him on rumors that he has amassed great personal wealth. He shrugged off the charges, saying anyone who could prove such assets was free to keep whatever they found.

But Rafsanjani's question and answer session with the group, the selection criteria for which was unclear, came to a climax with a tearful account from one girl in a purple headscarf who expressed weary disgust at life in Iran.

"I want to tell you I am not going to vote ... I don't want to be deceived," said Parisa Azizpour, 23, who appeared to represent many young Iranians disillusioned with politics.

Azizpour said she was questioned by her family for arriving home late and harassed by university doormen for what she wore.

Rafsanjani, wiping tears from his eyes, was silent for a few moments before collecting himself to urge the young to voice their feelings by voting.

But it all ended on a happy note with the youths shown applauding and smiling. Even the originally glum Azizpour broke into a smile and clapped.