TEHRAN – Eight competitors in the race to replace Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began their three-week campaign sprint over the weekend, holding almost daily events and dominating the country’s radio and television airwaves.
Although many there think there is little that differentiates the candidates — aside from the details of their pledges to improve on what they say is Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement — visits to campaign rallies and candidate headquarters reveal the many facets of Iranian politics and society.
Since the disqualification of the highest-profile candidates — former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei — the man getting the most attention is Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. Jalili’s message of economic resistance and Islamic purity does not appeal to large segments of urban Iran, however.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a longtime foreign minister and a physician trained at Johns Hopkins University, is touting his foreign policy experience as the reason Iranians should vote for him.
Hassan Rouhani, the only cleric among the eight candidates, is the one touting the most liberal-minded agenda. His speeches have focused on repairing Iran’s international image and addressing the concerns of the country’s ethnic and tribal minorities as well as those of non-Muslims and women, themes that have rarely entered the Iranian political discourse in recent years.