Iran's former reformist president Mohammad Khatami has said he intends to run
for the presidency again in elections set for June 12.
"Here I am announcing that I will seriously take part as a candidate for the
election," the 65-year-old Khatami told a meeting of a pro-reform political
People at the gathering clapped when they heard his statement.
"I never had doubt. Is it possible to remain indifferent toward the
revolution's fate and shy away from running in the elections?" Khatami said.
"We should pay attention to having a free and
legitimate election, and also secure a high turnout," he added.
The race will offer a stark choice for voters between Khatami and incumbent
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose first four years in office have witnessed a
sharp deterioration in ties with the West as tensions over Iran's nuclear work
While in office from 1997 to 2005, Khatami worked for detente with the West and
for political and social change at home. But hard-liners in charge of major
levers of power in Iran blocked many of his reforms, costing Khatami some key
The June poll will pit him against Ahmadinejad, who often rails against Western
powers. Moderate Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi has also said he'll run.
Isa Saharkhiz, a journalist in Tehran, says Khatami has his work cut out for
him. "The challenge [Khatami] faces is working in a country that operates
according to a dual mechanism. One part is based on elections, while the other
part is based on the appointment [of officials]," Saharkhiz told RFE/RL's Radio
"The people who support the second part are the officials who give priority to
having a supreme leader [as the main decision-maker] rather than the Islamic
republic, democracy, and the voting of people. This group won't easily allow
the reformists to act according to their plans," added Saharkhiz, who was the
head of the press department at the Culture Ministry during Khatami's
But Saharkhiz says Khatami does appear to be starting his campaign with
substantial popular support.
"We can say that almost all of the surveys that have been done four to five
months prior to the election show that the status of Mr Khatami is much better
than that of his main rival from the conservative bloc," Saharkhiz said. "And
it is almost two times more than Ahmadinejad."
Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, ties with the West have deteriorated as
tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions have mounted.
Ahmadinejad has also faced mounting criticism over his economic management and
surging inflation, which climbed to almost 30% last year. Reformists, in
particular, say his fiery foreign policy speeches have further isolated Iran.
A bid by Khatami is likely to polarize the race, in which others have already
declared, and may encourage conservatives to unite to prevent a reformist
winning, even though some of them have also criticized Ahmadinejad.
Reformist politician Mohammad Taqi Fazel Meibodi told Radio Farda that Khatami
faces two challenges.
"There are economic problems in our country - as well as in other parts of the
world - and people are suffering, and they expect Khatami to solve these
problems," said Meibodi.
"The other problem that exists, in my opinion, is the problem of having
[diplomatic] relations with the United States. If negotiations [with
Washington] were to begin - an expectation that people have of Khatami - then
it would have a positive impact from many angles. But if it did not take place,
then the impact would be negative. The thing is that if Khatami decides to
solve the problem with the United States, there will be problems for him in
Iran; [conservatives] will not allow him to succeed."
Retain Khamenei's support?
But analysts say the result of the vote could hinge on whether Ahmadinejad
retains the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top
authority who has publicly praised the president and whose words could sway
millions of loyalists.
Ahmadinejad may also be able to call on the backing of Iranians in poorer and
particularly rural areas where the impact of his spending has been most
obvious, analysts say, although they add that his largesse is why prices have
climbed so fast.
Although many of Khatami's reforms were blocked, such as a law to ease press
restrictions, the media did become more vibrant during Khatami's term - even if
many newspapers were banned - and some social strictures did loosen.
But some of Khatami's main supporters became disillusioned with him by the end
of his presidency, saying he should have done more to push through change.
Students, who were once at the vanguard of the reform movement, have now fallen
"There has been no plan provided by the reformists," said Taqi Rahmani, a
political analyst in Tehran.
"Mr Khatami has eight years of experience [as president], and he had slogans
that did not turn into reality. This time, if people want to vote for any
reformist candidate, they will not pay attention to his slogans. The activists
have had this experience and it is very difficult to convince them to take part
in the process if no solid plan is provided for them," said Rahmani.
Iranian presidents can serve only two consecutive four-year terms, but may run
again at a later date.
RFE/RL's Mohammad Hossein Boghrati contributed to this story, with agency