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This side of the abyss

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s challengers in the upcoming Presidential race (12 June) are united in blaming him for running down the economy and isolating Iran internationally with his confrontational speeches. Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards – a right-winger campaigning against Ahmadinejad’s extreme right – has even said that a possible second term with Ahmadinejad will ‘heave Iran over an abyss’. Rezaei is not an important challenger but he could swing some conservative voters away from Ahmadinejad to the benefit of reformist candidates.

A high turnout is decisive to a reformist victory. Ahmadinejad’s loyal supporters have proved that they will come out to vote for him. But experts argue that he has a ceiling of support of no more than 12 million. A voter turnout of above 30 million would prove disadvantageous for the incumbent. If a leading candidate gains less than 50 per cent of the vote, a run-off election is held. No Iranian president has ever failed to get re-elected for a second term in Iran. But Ahmadinejad is also alone in having had to face a run-off election to become President in 2005.

The concerted effort of the reformists is to get apathetic urban voters who were left disappointed with the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) to come back to them. Mohammad Gouchani, the enfant terrible of Iranian journalism, is an advisor to Mehdi Karroubi, the one-time Speaker of Parliament who is running under the campaign slogan: ‘Together for change’. Gouchani writes that this is not an election ‘for the thinker of the century… but a man of action’. Karroubi wants to be seen as the reformist who will deliver.

When a prescheduled (30 May) Karroubi election meeting was ‘postponed’ by the officials at Tehran Amir Kabir University, the candidate turned up to meet with the eager crowd. The dramatic amateur footage that appeared almost immediately online shows the students chanting ‘Death to dictators’ as they  break the university gates down and see Karroubi through to their meeting. Karroubi was accompanied by the former Tehran mayor Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi who has been announced as his vice-presidential candidate. Indeed many of Karroubi’s team such as Karbaschi, Abbas Abdi, Emadeddin Baghi, and Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari were prominent casualties of the reform moment and have been imprisoned in recent years.

No-one can win this election without the support of the youth vote. Forty-six per cent of Iran’s 48 million eligible voters are under the age of 30, highly educated and many at university. Karroubi’s welcoming boisterous reception is in stark contrast to Ahmadinejad’s’ visit, when his pictures were burned by angry students. A number of Amir Kabir students have been imprisoned in recent years and many have described Karroubi’s follow-up of their cases. In recent weeks 54 established student groups have called in an open letter for a stand against Ahmadinejad’s ‘persistent onslaught on civil society’ and his ‘reckless’ economic and foreign policies that have ‘endangered national interests’. This letter is highly significant: most of same student groups organized a boycott in the last presidential elections that many believe helped a conservative victory.

Nasrin Alavi will be blogging regularly for the NI in the lead-up to Iran’s election.

For more background on Iran see New Internationalist 398

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