Iran’s moderate presidential hopeful could benefit from hardliner split

All but one of the candidates has advocated a less intransigent approach to nuclear talks with world powers

A supporter shows a campaign poster for Iranian presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie on the streets of Tehran. Photograph: Reuters

A supporter shows a campaign poster for Iranian presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie on the streets of Tehran. Photograph: Reuters

Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 10:46

Campaigning in Iran’s presidential election ended yesterday ahead of today’s vote in which the sole moderate candidate has an outside chance of stealing victory from his hardline rivals.

Hardliners have failed to agree on a unity candidate, potentially splitting their vote and improving the chances of moderate cleric Hassan Rohani to progress to a run-off poll.

The next president is not expected to produce any major policy shift on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme or its support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls all the shots on big issues.

Yet all but one of the candidates – chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili – has advocated a less intransigent approach to nuclear talks with world powers. The president can influence the tone of Iran’s foreign policy with his choice of trips abroad. Ayatollah Khamenei (73) never travels outside Iran.

Today’s presidential election is the first in Iran since 2009 when reformists said the vote had been rigged to ensure the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, touching off the biggest protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution.


More compliant
Ayatollah Khamenei is determined to see a less troublesome, more compliant president, analysts say, but above all no repeat of the 2009 unrest that dented the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy.

Consequently, campaigning, which ended at 8am local time yesterday, has been tightly restricted and subdued.

But Mr Rohani appeared to be showing a last-minute surge, with large crowds on the streets of the eastern holy city of Mashhad for his final election gathering on Wednesday. “Rohani was amazing in yesterday’s rally. It was a huge welcome and unprecedented in Mashhad,” wrote one supporter on Twitter.

Pictures on social media showed what appeared to be sizeable public rallies, discouraged by authorities, in favour of Rohani in Tehran late into the night. Large rallies were also staged in the Iranian capital by supporters of hardline candidates.

Mr Rohani, best known for his conciliatory stance in nuclear talks with western powers between 2003 and 2005, could benefit from his rivals’ failure to unite behind a single hardline candidate despite months of trying.

Of the three main hardliners standing, Mr Jalili has run a strong campaign, but has been heavily criticised, even by fellow hardliners, for his intransigence in nuclear talks and for failing to stop the imposition of tough new sanctions.– (Reuters)