With just a few days to go before Iran's presidential election, the pace of campaigning has picked up and the four presidential candidates are stumping across the country. An unexpected wave of popular enthusiasm for Friday's election has caught analysts by surprise.
An enthusiastic crowd of supporters applauds
reformist presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, as he addresses them at a
soccer stadium in Tehran.
Mousavi tells them of his vision for the future of Iran and his come-from-behind campaign appears to be gaining steam from his tireless stumping.
Enthusiasm for Mousavi's challenge to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has caused such a groundswell that supporters created a massive traffic jam Monday in Tehran, by forming a human-chain the length of the city.
Popular exuberance began mounting after candidates touched on once taboo subjects during a series of televised debates.
Former President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who has been in exile in France since 1981, explains how the debates have shaken the regime.
Mr. Bani Sadr says there is enthusiasm in the
streets of Iran because of the widespread belief, even among the candidates that
the current regime is corrupt and sponsors terrorism. He notes that the biggest
bombshell in the campaign was a letter sent Tuesday by former President Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he
called the Ayatollah and others illegitimate.
Mr. Bani Sadr says the Rafsanjani letter reminded Khamenei that he and Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini took power in a coup against the Bani Sadr government and that coup was against the will of the people then. Mr. Rafsanjani warns Khamenei that if things continue as they are, the regime is in danger.
Despite mounting public disavowal of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the Islamic regime, former National Security Council member Gary Sick thinks many Ahmedinejad supporters still back him enthusiastically:
"People who support Mr. Ahmedinejad are fervent in their support and it has a kind of almost religious fervor to it in terms of the belief in him as a true populist who really respects and places his concern about the people above all," said Sick. "Then his opponents, including a conservative opponent who is a former head of the Revolutionary Guards, finds that [Mr.] Ahmedinejad has created huge problems for Iran and they are accusing [Mr.] Ahmedinejad quite publicly of malfeasance: that he has gotten Iran in trouble with everybody else, that there has been no payoff to this, that Iran has become a laughing-stock in a good part of the world and that he has not solved Iran's economic problems."
The conservative Kayhan newspaper, which supports Mr. Ahmedinejad, went so far as to call an Ahmedinejad campaign meeting in Tehran a "One-million Strong Tsunami."
But Gary Sick notes that President Ahmedinejad's support could actually be crumbling:
"He is clearly in trouble, in the sense that the opposition has jelled and the opposition to him has been growing dramatically," said Sick. "One report in Newsweek, this week is reporting that in a secret poll done by the government, the people were identifying themselves three to one in favor of Mr. Moussavi or somebody opposed to Mr. Ahmedinejad."
But analyst Meir Javedanfar of the Meepas Center in Tel Aviv thinks an election victory by Mr. Moussavi would have limited effect:
"The elections are important, because whoever wins will have a stronger lobbying voice in the office of the Supreme Leader," said Javedanfar. "However, at the end of the day, it is the Supreme Leader Khamenei himself who has to decide. So, he will listen to those around him, but, if he decides that his interest is to go against them, the choice of the president will not make a difference to his policy."
Notwithstanding the wave of popular enthusiasm, former President Bani Sadr also remains pessimistic.
Mr. Bani Sadr says he is not optimistic anything can change inside the current regime, but he says the enthusiasm in the streets is a hopeful sign the majority of people do not like, what he calls, the current dictatorship in Iran.
The Iranian election is Friday. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-winners will compete in a June 19th run-off election.
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