Reformists urge Khatami to run against Ahmadinejad

Leading reformists in Iran have urged former president Mohammad Khatami to run against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections in June next year, reported dpa.

"We want Khatami to disregard his doubts, think positively and enter the political scene," former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told the Iranian ISNA news agency.

Other leading reformists, such as former vice-presidents Mohammad-Ali Abtahi and Majid Ansari as well as ex-interior minister Abdol-Vahed Mussavi-Lari, have urged Khatami to take the challenge.

Khatami is widely regarded by both officials and observers as the only candidate who would have realistic chance of preventing Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Khatami has so far refrained from giving a clear reply whether he would run or not and said that he first wanted guarantees that he would have enough authority as president to implement his reformist policies within the clergy system in Iran.

According to the Iranian constitution, not the president but the supreme leader - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - is the actual head of state and has the final say on all state affairs.

The leader reportedly prefers Ahmadinejad to stay as head of the executive power but the reports are mainly based on interpretations and Khamenei has not yet made - and would probably never make, observers believe - any direct indications in this regard.

President Ahmadinejad has not only failed to implement his promised economic reforms for the lower- and middle-class but also pushed Iran into international isolation.

His persistence on continuing the country's controversial nuclear programme have so far brought the country three United Nations Security Council resolutions and financial sanctions.

Ahmadinejad's tirades against Israel, suggesting that the state should be "wiped from the map" and referring to the holocaust as a "fairy tale", have brought much antipathy.

Despite his political failures, Ahmadinejad retains however a chance of winning the presidential election, scheduled for 12 June 2009, mainly because of disunity among the reformists.

While Khatami has not yet made up his mind, his close aide and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi has proclaimed his nomination for the presidential race.

Official news agency IRNA reported that reformists blame Karroubi and his Etemad Melli (National Trust) party for not having in advance coordinated his nomination with the reformist groups, and hence fear that like in 2005, the reformist vote would be split.

Karroubi however rejects the criticism and says that he was the only candidate with an officially registered party, a newspaper and a clear programme to confront Ahmadinejad while the other reformist groups had no clear organization.

The Mehr news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying that Khatami has already dropped the idea of running and instead named former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Moussavi as the top candidate of the reformist wing. Khatami has not yet commented on the Mehr report.

The conservative opposition in the country, especially clerical circles, however blocked several reform moves such as amending the press and election laws and made the reform move eventually collapse.

The reformists gradually lost their power, first in the legislative elections in 2004 to the conservative faction and then in 2005 when reformists and moderate factions failed to agree on one united candidate for the presidential elections handing victory to the underdog Ahmadinejad.

But observers believe that the main aspect in next year's presidential election is not who gets the votes but who gives the votes as a high turnout would definitely benefit the Ahmadinejad opposition.

"If only the people would come for voting," Ramezanzadeh said, knowing that a low turn-out, especially as participation of Ahmadinejad supporters should be taken as granted, would enable Ahmadinejad a second presidential term.

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