The ghost of elections past
04 Jun 2009 11:36
By AFSHIN SALIMPOUR in Tehran | 3 June 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] It was a masterstroke of attack in the form of defense. In Iran's second televised presidential debate of this year's campaign, incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a blow to his main opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi with the mention of a single name: "Hashemi."
Outside the Islamic Republic of Iran, he is better known by the last part of his name, Rafsanjani, an appellation which refers to the pistachio-growing region from which he hails. Ahmadinejad's bombshell during Wednesday's debate was to bring the two-time former president out of the political darkness and into the harsh light of criticism once again.
"It is not just Mr. Mousavi, there is a coalition of three governments acting together against me. It's Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Khatami all working together against me."
"Behind the scenes he is the one pulling the strings. Hashemi, Khatami and now Mousavi are all against my government."
The tactic was clear. To revive the spirit of the 2005 election, in which Ahmadinejad beat out an unpopular Rafsanjani in a second round run-off vote, to tar his main rival with the brush of what many in Iran see as a corrupt establishment figure with a finger in every pie.
Rafsanjani, a veteran of the revolutionary years and well known as a pragmatist, had attempted to portray himself as a voice of moderation. In the absence of a candidate of their own, some reformists had even campaigned for him in an effort to avoid what they saw as an ultra-conservative threat. The Rafsanjani team famously used girls on rollerblades distributing "Hashemi 2005" bumper stickers as part of their campaign to energize the vote. But in the end, to no effect.
Hashemi had been a vocal critic of the government during the first two years of the Ahmadinejad term but has been conspicuously silent since then. The political party which he runs, "Kargozaran," announced its official support for Mousavi early in the campaign but the man himself has made no election-related statements and only appears on one, superficially neutral, election-related poster. On it, photographs of Hashemi and former president Khatami flank the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. The message of the poster is simply an injunction to vote.
There was more to come from the combatant Ahmedinejad. If the wealth of the Rafsanjani empire is a given fact among the taxi-drivers and lay-analysts of politicized Iran, the nepotism associated with it is legendary.
"What are the sons of Rafsanjani doing in this country?
One of Rafsanjani's sons runs the Tehran Metro. Jokes about his slovenly appearance and poor manners may be off the mark but still gain wide currency among a people highly sensitive to social injustice.
"Where is all this heavy spending on advertising coming from?"
He named Faize Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter, whose personal millions have helped to provide the Mousavi campaign with green headscarves, t-shirts and rubber bracelets. With this, Ahmadinejad had turned the excitement and vigor of the Mousavi campaign on its head.
"Many of the officials in the Rafsanjani government and many of your officials started work with nothing and ended up billionaires... How many of my ministers have become billionaires in the last four years?"
While the president rode high on the clouds of his perceived successes in foreign policy, he simultaneously managed to claim the title of champion of the masses against an elitism symbolized by the old pistachio-growing mafia boss who he defeated in 2005. At a time when the streets have been alive with talk of a Mousavi victory -- perhaps even a first round knockout -- Ahmadinejad has expertly portrayed himself as an underdog.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau