Leaders of Iran

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Moussavi - an experienced politician who enjoyed Khomeini's confidence

Muaffaq al-Rubai - Iraqi interim government National Security Adviser: "Power struggles in Tehran

Amid mounting concern over Iran's widely suspected pursuit of a nuclear capability it has become clear that the reformers in Tehran have lost the battle for control of the country's destiny. The important question is which of Iran's hardliners will succeed outgoing President Mohammad Khatami?

The battle for political control of Iran is no longer being fought between the 'moderate' reformers and the hardliners, but within the ranks of the conservatives. Since losing ground to the hardliners in parliament - with many of his key supporters being banned from even standing as candidates in last February's elections - Khatami has appeared to be the largely powerless figure-head of a reform movement that has been effectively derailed by the conservative factions. Having lost the confidence of many younger Iranians who were demanding more liberalisation, the political prospects for the president's supporters look bleaker than ever.

Under Iran's constitution, the president is only eligible to serve two consecutive terms, so Khatami - elected for the first time in 1997 and for a second term in 2001 - cannot stand again in the elections scheduled to be held in June 2005. However, given the widespread disillusionment which has been the hallmark of his second term in office, there would have been no guarantee that he could have won a third mandate.

Khatami's inevitable exit from frontline politics in 2005 leaves the weakened reform movement without an obvious candidate to succeed him. One possible choice, former prime minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, recently ruled himself out of the race. Despite mounting pressure from reformers to stand, Moussavi - who served as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's prime minister from 1981 to 1989 - has now formally declined the nomination, much to the disappointment of Khatami and his supporters, since Moussavi is regarded as an experienced politician who enjoyed Khomeini's confidence.

With the reformers in deep disarray, the field is wide open for the conservatives to add the prize of the presidency to their control of Iran's parliament. Although ultimate political power continues to rest with the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the presidential post is regarded as a key target if the hardliners are to regain full control over the Islamic Republic and safeguard - as they see it - Khomeini's legacy."

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