In Iran: Hope battles apathy
Presidential candidates struggle to convince disillusioned voters to go to the polls on Friday.
Politics of violence can mean politics as usual in Iran. But the cuts and black eye sustained by reform strategist Behzad Nabavi - attacked by 30 hard-line militants last Thursday in the holy city of Qum - are being taken by reformers as a sign of rising fortunes in a lackluster campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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Buffeted by public disdain and predictions of defeat at presidential polls this Friday, Iran's once-popular reformers say that several "orchestrated" attacks on their meetings by militants prove that they remain a political force.
A recent, unverifiable jump in poll numbers for reform candidate Mustafa Moin, a former culture and education minister, is making conservatives jittery, they argue.
"These actions reveal the nature of our opponents ... [but] maybe we should thank the [militants] for these incidents," jokes Mr. Nabavi. "People tell me: 'If they had killed you, Moin would win 100 percent.' "
But voter apathy and a partial boycott may foil moderate hopes. Though Iranians are at a political crossroads - the vote takes place under the shadow of US suspicions about Iran's nuclear program, and talk of an eventual US or Israeli military strike - half of Iran's 48 million eligible voters are expected to stay home, disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises of democracy and rule of law that once galvanized a huge turnout for outgoing president Mohammad Khatami.
"There is a thick layer of apathy smothering everything," says a veteran Iranian political observer. "Somehow, inactivity and doing nothing is seen [by many] as the most effective way to struggle."
In further violence, at least eight people were killed and 36 injured Sunday in four bomb attacks in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. An official told Reuters that the attackers were trying to disrupt the vote. But Ahvaz was the scene of violent protests in April after reports that the government was planning to relocate non-Arabs there to reduce Arab strength in the area. The government denied the reports.
With more than 1,000 potential candidates disqualified, Iranians will choose between front-runner Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - a pragmatic conservative who polls twice the support of his nearest rival - four hard-line candidates with military credentials, and two reformers.
None has captured popular imagination, Iranians say, and only Mr. Rafsanjani, an inveterate dealmaker and two-time president who has been at the center of politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution, even appears presidential.
"Iranians are desperate for reason to hope," says a Western diplomat, which is why Rafsanjani, despite charges of corruption and links to political murders, appears to have so much support. "All the campaigns have the most fantastic theories about why they're doing so well."
Rafsanjani and his rivals have dumped the language of revolutionary Iran in favor of inclusive, liberal messages aimed at the youthful majority - the same constituency Khatami once tapped so effectively.
"[N]obody is willing to [believe] anything but moderation and reality," Rafsanjani told supporters packed into a mosque Saturday night. "Don't be worried about radicalism; this is [just] a [passing] wave.
"People, and especially youths, have all information before their eyes. You can't use censorship," he said, sparking applause.