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Iran: Ex-parliament speaker Karroubi enters the presidential race

Tehran, Jan 4, IRNA -- Iran's former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, a pragmatic reformist, Saturday joined the presidential foray, with the battle lines being drawn.

The mid-ranking cleric welcomed a swelling list of the candidates, saying a 'magnificent' organization of the election could help 'lift some of the international pressures (on Iran) or lessen them'.

As the former parliament speaker, Karroubi often tried to stay beyond political partisanship during mostly stormy sessions of the Iranian Majlis, sometimes chiding his own majority allies at the parliament floor to prevent the row from growing out of proportion.

The white-turbaned theologian, who is the secretary of the Association of the Combatant Clerics, launched his presidential bid with a charm offensive, trying to actuate the same spirit which propelled President Mohammad Khatami to a landslide in 1997.

"Those elections helped keep threats against the country at bay since the Americans were blatantly seeking to attack several places, but the problem was evaded with the massive turnout of the people," Karroubi said.

"And now, I believe the situation is sensitive and people's turnout in the presidential election is very decisive," he said, adding 'if the elections are held listlessly, the international pressures will double'.

Karroubi's announcement, however, could further split the vote in the presence of such reformists as former higher education minister Mostafa Moin and incumbent Vice President Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh who have entered the race.

Karroubi stressed that 'I will not pull out of the race in favor of anyone or will not ask anyone to do so'.

The list is still growing, with Iran's Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, having confirmed his intention to join the race as has the former head of the state broadcasting, Ali Larijani.

Others included in the list are Iran's former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is now the supreme leader's top advisor, and former chief of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezaie.

But a key contender --former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who chairs the arbitrative Expediency Council-- is biding his time.

He recently announced that 'if the country's elite ask me to participate, I will definitely come to the scene'.

Iran's current president, Mohammad Khatami, is nearing the end of his second consecutive term and the constitution bars him from serving more than two consecutive mandates.

The eight-year tenure of the Iranian president, who won a landslide reelection in 2001, was far from plain-sailing, and he repeatedly complained of lacking enough power to deliver on his promises.

Khatami saw his bid to prop up presidential powers quashed after two of his bills failed to make it through stiff vetting of the country's supervisory apparatus even though they enjoyed overwhelming support of his allies in the parliament.

Even the incumbent parliament took power after the supervisory Guardian Council disqualified about 2,000 prospective candidates from standing.

Last month, President Khatami sent a directed message, taking up his familiar refrain to remind Iranian officials of the need for competitive elections, where eligible groups of all political hue are given an even chance in the next presidential race.

Recalling his trademark call for the rule of law and a civil society, Khatami took the stage at parliament, where most of his supporters were ousted by their rivals during last February's parliamentary election.

"Our country today stands on the brink of another historical moment, namely the elections and we must meet the conditions for a massive and hopeful participation of the people in order to hold a lively election," he said.

"We must learn how to compete in being diverse and plural, and must not mistake competition for fighting.

"The thinking that only one taste rules the society and unity be sought within such an ideology is both impossible and unfavorable.

"It is impossible to realize democracy and meet people's demands with a totalitarian culture as well as self-centeredness, reclusiveness and opposition to pluralism.

"To realize the will of the people and their objectives, there is no other way than being together and (maintaining) unity," the Iranian president said, citing 'the sensitive political situation which the country is faced with'.

"There is need for creating conditions where all groups and political parties affiliated to the establishment and (loyal) to the Constitution can call on the people to participate in the polls and hold a lively election," Khatami added.

... Payvand News - 1/4/05 ... --

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