Latest on the Race: Reformists Regroup to Run

Garrett Nada
            Iran’s reformers appear to be rejoining the political fray, with the first reform candidate entering the presidential race and new pressure on former President Mohammad Khatami to run as well. So far, the field of about twenty candidates is otherwise dominated by conservatives with diverse political affiliations.

            Mostafa Kavakebian, Secretary General of the Democracy Party (or Mardom Salary) and editor of its paper with the same name, became the first reformer to enter the presidential race. At a March 16 press conference, the former member of parliament claimed that 18 of 33 reformist groups back his candidacy.

      But Kavakebian appears to be playing it safe at a difficult time for reformers, whose two opposition candidates for president in 2009 are under house arrest. In the disputed 2009 election, Kavakebian supported reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Yet in mid-March, he told students at Rejaei University in Tehran that he no longer supports the detained leader, the Tehran Chronicle reported. “The constitution and the supreme leader would have the final word in my administration,” Kavakebian told the press on March 16.
Kavakebian’s Move
            Born in 1963, Kavakebian served in parliament from 2004 to 2012. Iranian news media refer to him as either a reformist or having “reformist leanings.” He was going to run for president in 2005 but withdrew after he performed poorly in early polls. Voters ultimately elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultra conservative who steps down this summer due to term limits. Kavakebian was the chairman of the parliamentary Reformist Alliance coalition from 2011 to 2012. But he lost his seat in the March 2012 parliamentary election, when priciplists (fundamentalists) won about 75 percent of the open seats.
            Through Mardom Salary’s paper, Kavakebian has harshly criticized Ahmadinejad’s economic policies. As Iran’s rial plummeted to less than half its value a year earlier, the paper opined in September 2012, “It would be good for the president to tell us whether he really knows anything about the surge in the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar.” In October 2012, another article claimed that the government is “unable to provide basic necessities due to economic mismanagement.”
            On other issues, Kavakebian has supported improved relations with the United States to lift sanctions, although only if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approves. Kavakebian’s interest in foreign relations is evident on what appears to be his official Facebook profile. He posts links to breaking news stories on Iran-U.S. relations.
            On March 1, Kavakebian reposted a picture of the U.S. and Iranian flags, with links to news articles on Secretary of State Kerry’s February trip to Europe. “Iran is a country with a government was elected and that sits in the United Nations,” Kerry told the press in France.
            Kavakebian called on the government to allow more private media in Iran. “T.V. and radio must not be expressly confined to state media,” he told the press on March 16, 2013.
            The Democracy Party originally put Kavakebian’s name forward in January, but he did not formally declare his candidacy until mid-March. He has pledged to withdraw from the race if former President Khatami decides to run, according to Mehr News Agency. The following are excerpted remarks by Kavakebian.
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “We will try to terminate all sorts of sanctions and restrictions on Iranian individuals, banks and the economy. This demands improvement of ties with the United States. The timing is not right yet. But if it takes a turn for the better, we should have a plan. Under article 176 of the Iranian constitution, the Supreme National Security Council can tell us when we can do so, of course with endorsements of the leadership.” March 16, 2013 in an interview with Press TV
            “I believe that the current situation is not fit for opening relations with the United States, and that thorough planning is needed for that… [I was] one of Ahmadinejad’s first critics when he introduced [the idea of improving] relations with the United States.” March 16, 2013, at a press conference
            “I personally think the direct talks between Iran and the U.S. could be constructive and useful for both sides. But at the current conditions, Iran cannot handle such talks with American side. During the past six years, Obama administration has passed several rounds of resolutions against Islamic Republic.” March 2013, to students at Rajaei University
Presidential Election
            “Mardom Salary (Democracy Party) will definitely take part in the coming election. But the probable coalition between reformist political parties can change the conditions… In that time, I was a member of Mousavi’s [2009 presidential ] campaign, but currently I don’t support him…” March 2013, to students at Rajaei University
            “On the reformist side, only 3 to 4 candidates ― who oppose the fundamentalism of the other 30 to 40 candidates― are being considered. It is easier to build consensus [among reformists] from a group of 3 to 4… I am going to have a young cabinet, and I will introduce a third of my cabinet before the elections…” March 2013, to Iranian news agencies
            “From the first day, we announced that if [former President Mohammad] Khatami stands as a candidate, Mardom Salary will withdraw its candidacy…” January 2013, to Mehr News Agency
Nuclear Program
            “The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors should be banned from re-entering the country if they once again publish unreal reports on Tehran's peaceful nuclear program.” January 2012, to Iranian news agencies
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
Photo Credits: Mostafa Kavakebian via Akhbar Siasy and Facebook
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