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Mohammad Khatami's pulling out from presidential elections doesn't mean reformists' defeat

Statements by Michael Bauer

17.03.2009 · Trend News (Azerbaijan) / D. Ibrahimova

Iranian ex-president, reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami's refusal from participating in the presidential elections will strengthen the position of the conservative camp, but does not rule out reformist candidates' winning the elections in Iran.

"Any reformist candidate has a chance to win the election," U.S. expert on Iran Kenneth Katzman told Trend News.

In the early morning of March 17, Iran's ex-president, reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami officially refused to participate in presidential elections to be held in June.

Besides him, reformists nominated Iranian parliament's ex-speaker Mahdi Karroubi and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, representative of the conservatives, has not yet officially confirmed participation in the elections.

Mousavi served as Prime Minister for 9 years. Since leaving the post in 1989, he has not engaged in political activities. Khatami said in a statement that he would support Mousavi. They met on Sunday.

According to experts, Khatami was trusted by a large number of Iranian residents and his withdrawal may strengthen the position of the conservative camp, to which incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad belongs. "The fact that Khatami pulled out might even increase the chances for a moderate-conservative candidate," German expert on Iran Michael Bauer told Trend News.

However, despite the possible strengthening of the conservatives, victory of the reformists is not ruled out because the people are unhappy with the policy pursued by conservative President Ahmadinejad.

"Many Iranians believe Ahmadinejad's policies have led to Iran's international isolation and popular disillusionment," U.S. Congressional Research Service Middle East Affairs Specialist Kenneth Katzman wrote to Trend News in an e-mail.

The policy of confrontation with the West, followed by Ahmadinejad, has led to sanctions on and economic isolation of Iran. The main stumbling block between the West and Tehran is development of Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and some Western countries doubt about the peaceful nature of the program. Tehran insists is on peaceful purposes of its nuclear program.

Analysts within the country also question the Ahmadinejad's success and do not rule out victory of any member of the reformist camp. About 70 percent of the Iranian population is dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad's economic and international policies. And this will undermine his chance to win the election, Iranian expert on domestic political issues Ahmad Zeydabadi told Trend News in a telephone conversation.

Ahmadinejad's economic policy was unsuccessful, Bauer said. According to the Economic Statistics magazine, published by the Central Bank of Iran in August 2008, over 14 million people in Iran live under the poverty line. The figure increased from 18 to 19 percent from 2005 to 2006. Given the annual inflation, the number of people living in poverty is increasing.

Under the current conditions, Zeydabadi did not exclude possibility to hold the second round of the presidential elections where Ahmadinejad's chances will not so great.

The conservative camp lacks a unified position and concrete candidate and this fact can favor the reformist camp. "If earlier it was planned to nominate one conservative candidate for the presidential position, at present conservatives want to nominate several candidates in the elections," Member of the Unified Front of the Islamic Iran reformist party and Iranian Expert Ali Marzui told Trend News in a telephone conversation.

"There are frictions and infightings going on between Ahmadinejad and his followers on one hand and Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Larijani, on the other hand," Expert and Research Fellow of German Center for Applied Policy Research Michael Bauer wrote to Trend News in an email. Dispute between them occurred, when Ahmadinejad dismissed Larijani from a chairman position of the Iranian Security Council in 2008.

Experts believe the reformist candidates have great chances to win the presidential elections not only due to the conservative president's unsuccessful policy, but also due to own features.

Mousavi might be a better candidate than Khatami for the liberals also because he still has some credibility in the conservative camp too, Bauer said.

Prime Minister Mousavi gained support from Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Imam Khomeini who definitely influences on the Iranian policy. As conservatives support the Iranian spiritual leader's position, there is definite trust from Mousavi.

Mousavi's success compared to Khatami can be provided, because Khatami lost support of most of his adherents when he was the president. And this fact may hinder Khatami to occupy his position again.

"Some consider Mousavi to be a stronger candidate than Khatami because Khatami lost a lot of support when he was president for refusing to confront hardliners," Katzman said.

Khatami did not fulfill his promises during his presidency in 1997-2005. This fact can hinder Khatami to win the presidential elections and make Mousavi as more probable candidate.

"Khatami could not be efficient president and this memory can hinder him to win the elections," Professor of Policy at the U.S. George Mason University International Relations Department Mark Katz wrote to Trend News in an email.

Khatami promised the government would act in line with people's desire, but could not fulfill his promises. The government was only partially democratized.

A reason under which Khatami withdrew his candidature from the elections is that majority of reformist candidates would not allow any reformist representative to gain majority of votes to win the elections.

"Muhammad Khatami withdrew his candidature from the Iranian presidential post due to a great number of candidates for the presidential post," Ex-Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi told Trend News in a telephone conversation. Khatami withdrew his candidature in favor of another reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, Abtahi said.

Experts believe Khatami's support can favor Mousavi's victory in the elections.

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