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03 Jun 2009 12:12No Comments
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The Curious Case of Mehdi Karroubi | 3 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Mehdi Karroubi -- the former chairman of the Iranian Parliament, an ethnic Lur and an outspoken critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- is in many ways an ideal moderate reformist leader for Iran. However, despite his well-rounded resume and political connections, Karroubi remains a long-shot in Iran's upcoming Presidential election because of uneasiness in the ranks of Iran's reformist movement.

Within the Iranian political establishment, few match Karroubi's political credentials. A close protege of Ayatollah Khomeini during and after the 1979 Revolution, his political resume includes positions

such as speaker of the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, from 1989 to 1992 and again between 2000 and 2004 during President Mohammad Khatami's administration; he was head of the Shahid Foundation in the 1980's, an organization in charge of the welfare of families of war veterans and victims, and the founder of Society of Combatant Clergies. In the 2005 Presidential election, he finished third behind

Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, saying after the election: "Had I stayed up all night that night, they would not have cheated me out of my votes." After his defeat, he founded the Etemad Melli party to

gather supporters and to prepare for the 2009 presidential election.

So there is little surprise to find him among the four candidates competing for the Iranian President in 2009; but Karroubi is not the only reformist candidate. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Iran's former Prime

Minister, also is running for the office on a reformist ticket. Mousavi's presidential bid encouraged former President Khatami to withdraw his own candidacy in support of Mousavi. By doing so, Khatami

denied reformist groups the one candidate about whom they could have agreed.

Karroubi did not follow suit; instead, he stayed on. While Mousavi has been receiving support among mainstream reformist groups and parties such as Kargozaran and Mosharekat and is popular with students and labor unions, Karroubi's campaign has attracted many former officials and distinguished reformists.

This competition between reformist candidates has begun to divide loyalties among the anti-Ahmadinejad movement. While Kargozaran, the main technocrat party, supports Mousavi, its chief secretary, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, supports Karroubi; in turn, Karroubi has picked Karbaschi, formerly the mayor of Tehran, as his choice for vice-president. Although Khatami backs Mousavi, one of Khatami's closest advisors, Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, has joined Karroubi's campaign along with many of Khatami's former ministers, advisors and allies, like Dr. Ata'ollah Mohajerani, Khatami's first Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance; Prof. Mohammad-Ali Najafi, a mathematics professor and Minister of Education under Rafsanjani; and noted Iranian journalists Ahmad Zeidabdi, Abbas Abdi and Emadeddin Baghi. Most of those who have gathered around Karroubi -- men such as Karbaschi, Abdi

and Baghi -- have served prison terms because of their support for reformist activities. Some say Karroubi had been instrumental in their release from prison and thus earned their personal loyalty, which has increased Karroubi's political capital in Tehran.

Karroubi's reputation is of a man who is unlikely to withdraw from a fight. Most recently, he sent an open letter to Kayhan, an ultra-conservative daily paper in Tehran, responding to some allegations put forth by its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, criticizing him and his paper in a most uncompromising way, for which he received applause from all parts of the political spectrum in Iran.

Additionally, Karroubi's economic agenda is the most appealing of all four candidates. Adopting a plan originally introduced by Dr. Masoud Nili, a prominent Iranian economist, Karroubi wants to introduce

stocks for oil companies into the market, giving Iranians direct access to profits and revenue generated by the oil industry. He has surrounded himself with technocrats and economists who believe in free

market economics and advocate for market liberalization and a prominent role for the private sector in the development process. It is a pity that neither is popular with Iranian intellectuals, nor with Mousavi for that matter.

While Karroubi has inherited the reform movement's economic agenda, Mousavi symbolizes its social ideals. Mousavi speaks of more freedom for the youth, promises disbanding the morality patrols and argues for more international involvement. The active role his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, plays in his campaign has caused many to hope that women's issues would become a priority in his administration.

In the absence of a primary campaign in the Iranian presidential election process, the present circumstances could only confuse the average Iranian voter. For those who dread another Ahmadinejad

victory, the situation couldn't be worst. It is difficult to share the optimism of Karroubi's supporters that the election would go to a second round, granting a showdown between Karroubi and Mousavi in the

best case, or between a reformist and Ahmadinejad in the worst case. They fear that these two candidates will split the reformist votes, which would grant Ahmadinejad an easy first round victory.

These fears could prompt many to vote for Mousavi, who is ahead of Karroubi in the polls, to give him a strong margin for victory and to prevent a split in reformist votes. Many do so with a heavy heart, as

Karroubi offers a curiously interesting alternative, but Iranian politics cannot afford that luxury right now.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau
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