Tuesday, May 10, 2005

It's Official: The Shark says, I'll stand to save Iran

Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph:
Iran's foremost powerbroker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a veteran political cleric known as "The Shark", yesterday announced he would stand for next month's presidential election, saying he wanted to save the country from crisis. READ MORE

As the interior ministry began registering hundreds of mostly no-hope candidates - including an 18-year-old schoolgirl and a turbaned man declaring he wanted to teach Persian poetry to President George W Bush - Mr Rafsanjani confirmed that he would stand for a position he has held twice before.

"I never thought I would find myself before a new trial," he said in a statement, adding that he had felt compelled to stand against the "appearance of extremist forces".

Mr Rafsanjani, now the clear favourite, is a wily operator. In recent years he has been seen as a hardliner, but now appears to be casting himself as a something of a reformist.

He has in the past expressed alarm at the prospect of a turnout so low that it could undermine the legitimacy of the clergy's rule.

About half of Iran's voters stayed away in last year's parliamentary elections, after the Guardian Council, one of the regime's watchdog bodies, disqualified scores of reformist candidates.

With the outgoing President Mohammad Khatami publicly admitting that he has failed to promote more liberal political and economic policies, the June 17 presidential ballot risked becoming a contest between unpopular hardliners.

At the age of 70, Mr Rafsanjani, the son of a pistachio farmer, has occupied most of the senior positions, including those of parliamentary speaker, armed forces commander and president from 1989 to 1997. He is widely regarded as the second most powerful figure after the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr Rafsanjani's experience may come in useful in managing the looming confrontation with Europe and America over Iran's nuclear programme, amid widespread suspicions that Teheran is seeking to build an atomic bomb.