Iran's reformers put hope in 'New Khatami'
The ex-president faces an uphill battle in June's presidential elections and must shed his 'weak' image, supporters say.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Hailing what they call a "New Khatami," reformist operatives – who have been relegated to Iran's political wilderness for years – hope that Mr. Khatami's campaign will erase a reputation for weakness and rekindle the exuberant spirit for change that brought the cleric landslide victories in 1997 and 2001.
But even Khatami's most vocal supporters say it will not be easy taking on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservative institutions of the Islamic Republic that are lined up to back him, or another hard-line candidate, despite Iran's struggling economy and its standoff with the West.
The June 12 contest promises to be a critical showdown, pitting the two competing trends that have not only shaped politics in Iran for more than a decade, but also what it means to be a revolutionary state in a modern, globalized age.
The presidential tug of war began two weeks ago, when Khatami's presence at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution prompted a noisy face-off between rival supporters. This week two websites backing Khatami's campaign were shut down.
"This is the first time in 30 years the people of Iran have two real candidates that have shown what they are made of," says Iraj Jamshidi, news editor of the daily Economic World newspaper in Tehran. "Each has a completely different stance on domestic and foreign policy, and they are both well known."
Both men have yet to be officially accepted as candidates. And Mr. Ahmadinejad has until now left it to aides to confirm whether he will run for a second term, though he has spent much of his presidency in de facto campaign mode, traveling repeatedly across the country, doling out cash, projects, and promises.
Khatami delayed making the decision until he had met several times with Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, who has publicly supported Ahmadinejad's government and apparently advised Khatami against entering the race.
"Almost everyone knows of that last meeting with the Leader – they know the Leader said not to run, but [Khatami] said he will run," says Isa Saharkhiz, a reformist editor and activist. "It shows that Khatami is tougher than before."
The former president told Ayatollah Khamenei he felt an "obligation" to run. When he announced his candidacy, Khatami declared it "our duty to correct the current situation" though nobody could perform a "miracle."
Khatami must overcome the reputation that "he's a good guy, but he is weak," says Mr. Saharkhiz, who has a photograph in his living room of Khatami at the wedding of his son. "The signals Khatami is giving could encourage these people. It is the slogan of reformists, the 'New Khatami.' "