By Mahnaz Malekuti, Rooz Online
With less than a year left to Iran’s next presidential elections, veteran politician Hashemi Rafsanjani who today holds the leadership of the State Expediency Council has turned into a key election figure to the point that a news site has even conducted a poll about the chances of his participation in the next presidential race or that of one of his allies, former Majlis Speaker Nategh Nouri.
Ayatollah Aliakbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Khabar Online, a website with close ties to current Majlis speaker Ali Larijani and the Rahrovan Velayat faction in the legislature which is managed by Hossein Entezami, the former media advisor to the Speaker, has conducted a poll on next year’s presidential elections in which it asks the following question: In your view and under the current conditions of the country and the world, what characteristics are best suited for the country’s next president?
The poll identifies four responses: 1-A veteran personality such as Hashemi Rafsanjani and Nategh Nouri; 2-A diplomatic personality such as Ali Akbar Velayat, Hassan Rowhani, Kamal Kharazi, Ali-Akbar Salehi and Manoutchehr Mottaki; 3-An executive figure such as Mohammad-Reza Aref, General Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, and Ali Nikzad; 4-A radical personality (from amongst the Principlists or Reformers).
Over ten thousand respondents took the Khabar Online poll and the highest votes went to Rafsanjani and Nouri. The second place went to executive figures, the third to diplomatic figures and the last to the radicals.
There is talk that Ali Larijani himself may again be a candidate for the presidency, which may explain the launching of the poll, but the inclusion of Rafsanjani’s and Nouri’s names may be an indication that more moderate leaders may be favored again, some observers believe. Others dismiss such conclusions and believe these are merely maneuverings to form a government of national unity.
Earlier, Principlist media had warned against the return of Mr. Rafsanjani to next year’s presidential race. There were plenty of contradictory reports about the two-time president and his family until a reformist newspaper, Arman, openly discussed the issue and published outsized photographs on its front page in his support, which brought about negative responses from hardline media such as Javan and Kayhan. Even the official government newspaper joined the criticism.
But as Sadegh Zibakalam, a moderate university professor and political commentator recently wrote, that the chances of a 78-year politician talking the helm of the country for possibly another 8 years were slim, the issue of age too has returned to this debate.
Laws in Iran do not condition age for presidential candidacy. The seventh Majlis (2004-2008) did play with the idea of restricting the age to 40 - 75, but the Guardians Council which has the authority to strike down or return bills to the legislature rejected the bill.
But Arman newspaper boldly wrote, “Even critics know that the key to solving the country’s problems lie in Rafsanjani’s hands.” Radical Principlists who oppose Rafsanjani responded to this in the usual manner of rejecting this opinion.
Raja news, a website close to ultra-conservative cleric Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and to Jebhe Paidari (the Steadfast Front) wrote a piece titled, “Attempts to return Regressives” in which it says, “Hashemi [Rafsanjani] has serious obstacles to advance this plan the most important of which is public opinion and people. People still well remember his postures in the 2009 sedition events.” Sedition is the term Iran’s ruling circles use for the 2009 public protests against the presidential elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency who also charge that Rafsanjani threw in his veiled support for the protests against the incumbent president.
Bulletin News, another radical website critical of Rafsanjani also responded to the rumors about the candidacy of the head of the State Expediency Council in next year’s presidential race and wrote, “During the eight Majlis a motion was presented to limit the age of presidential candidates to 40 - 75, and while the Guardians Council opposed the move, the State Expediency Council has not announced its decision on it, something that becomes clearer today now that Hashemi has returned to the election field.”
Jomhurie Eslami newspaper too, which supports Rafsanjani’s views wrote, “With the publication of news that Hashemi Rafsanjani is ready to enter the presidential race next year, sources close to the politician have denied such a position. These sources add that Mr. Rafsanjani has no plans to be in that race.”
A source close to Rafsanjani has told Rooz Online that, “Recent media reports about the possible candidacy of Mr. Rafsanjani are to divert public opinion on what is going on in the country and there is no reason for a person of 78 years who will be 79 next year to enter the presidential race as there is no shortage of leaders in this country. If a newspaper wants to publish his photographs in order to sell more of its issues, then that has nothing to do with Mr. Rafsanjani.”
Two days ago, Hassanali Nouri, the deputy director of the elections Commission and the head of the elections office at the ministry of interior responded to a question on the age limitations and said while age restrictions exist for Majlis representatives, there is no such qualifier for the presidential candidates at the moment.
Hashemi Rafsanjani holds the record in the number of elections he has participated in during his political life which include the first to third Majlis, fifth and sixth presidency, sixth Majlis, and the ninth president.
In addition to Rafsanjani, Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri has recently returned to the public sphere and has been busy making public appearances and delivering speeches. While he belongs to the same formal political camp that Rafsanjani belongs known as the Jame Rohaniyat Mobarez (Combatant Clergy Association, a traditional right-wing conservative group), of which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also a member. Yet both Nouri and Rafsanjani are staunch critics of Ahmadinejad, who directly and brutally attacked Rafsanjani during his 2009 presidential campaign. Mr. Rafsanjani has since then responded by saying why were Ahmadinejad’s accusations not investigated.
Nategh Nouri’s public speeches have been disrupted by the Ansare Hezbollah vigilante group even as he continues to organize his position and plans for the next presidential race, even though he announced in 1997, after being defeated by reformist presidential candidate Mohammad Khatami, that he would not participate in any elections henceforth.
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