Hardliners seek consensus to defeat Rafsanjani

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Pressure mounted on Wednesday on four hardline candidates in Iran’s June 17 presidential race to reach consensus on a single nominee to challenge wily former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who leads opinion polls.
A new survey showed Rafsanjani, 70, still leading the pack of eight candidates, but suggested support for the pro-business pragmatist may be waning.

Political analysts say Iran’s clerical rulers, facing heightened international pressure over Tehran’s nuclear programme, hoped a large electoral field would encourage an image-enhancing high turnout in the vote to replace outgoing reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami, whose popularity has waned due to his failure to overcome hardline opposition to his programme of political and social reforms, is barred by law from standing for a third term.

But with four former members of the hardline Revolutionary Guards competing against one another, there was a grave danger that the traditional conservative, also known as principalist, vote would be split, hardline commentators argued.

“If all the four principalist candidates take part in the election, none of them have a chance of winning, while their unity will definitely bring them victory,” said the hardline Kayhan newspaper before suggesting a solution.

“The four principalist candidates should be imprisoned in a mosque for 48 hours to negotiate with themselves and with God so that they understand the necessity of a single candidate in the election and stop stressing their individual paths.”

Rafsanjani and the rest

An opinion poll based on 4,738 interviews in 12 cities by the Iranian Students Polling Agency on May 31 and June 1 showed support for Rafsanjani was 27.8 per cent, down from 34.8 per cent in a poll in the capital by the same agency published last week.

Rafsanjani’s closest challenger remained Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief, with 14.0 per cent. Outspoken reformist Mostafa Moin, a former higher education minister, came third with 10.2 per cent.

The combined support of the four hardliners Qalibaf, former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaie, is just shy of Rafsanjani’s backing, the poll showed.

Newspapers speculated that Ahmadinejad and Rezaie were the most likely to drop out of the race. Kayhan quoted Larijani as saying there would be good news soon on a consensus candidate.

Political analysts say the June 17 election is unlikely to be conclusive. To win outright a candidate must secure at least 50 per cent of votes cast. Otherwise the top two candidates must face off in a second round held a week later.

Turnout is likely to be low, with many analysts estimating at least half the roughly 48 million eligible voters will stay away from the polls.

“I supported Khatami eight and four years ago, but I won’t vote for anyone now,” said 24-year-old student Jale. “The whole regime has let us down … what have our generation seen except poverty, pressure, limitations and prison?”

Iran’s interior ministry on Tuesday warned candidates against violating the law after several campaign headquarters accused each other of employing dirty tricks.

Posters outside one Rafsanjani campaign centre in Tehran were set ablaze, campaign websites of several candidates have been hacked and the state-run broadcasting network has been accused of bias.

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