Pressure Mounts for Iran’s Moderate Candidates to Unite

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With eight days left before the June 14 election and the unpredictable nature of Iranian presidential politics, Reformists and moderates have been exerting pressure on Mohammad Reza Aref and Hassan Rouhani to unite. Some fear that if Aref and Rouhani fail to unite, their votes there could be a repeat of 2005 election that brought the hard-line Ahmadinejad to power.

Motahhareh Shaffei wrote in Arman newspaper that “It wasn’t that long ago in the 2005 election when the Reformists felt they didn’t need the support of Rafsanjani,” adding, “However, today the Reformists have felt that the country needs other elements … and despite their own political views, have decided to support a moderate candidate.” Well-known Reformists have essentially been sidelined from the political scene in Iran and some believe that supporting a so-called moderate candidate is the best path for them to achieve some of their goals.

Shaffi wrote that of the potential candidates Reformists could support, “One is Hassan Rouhani and the other is Mohammad Reza Aref. Both are moderates and have taken the middle path, and no extreme action has been seen from either one of them.”

On Monday, while campaigning in Iran’s Gazvin province, Aref, who was Khatami’s first vice president in Khatami’s second term and the minister of technology under Khatami’s first term, said of the possibility of building a coalition, he would “listen to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami’s final opinion on the matter.”

However, that same day, he told Mehr News in response to the possibility of a coalition that “A lot of news is published on this matter but I have no intention of doing this, and I will remain until the end of the election race.” On Tuesday, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, a member of Aref’s campaign staff, denied rumors that Aref would step aside in favor of Rouhani.

Aref, who upon registering for the presidency said that he would pull out if Rafsanjani or Khatami decided to run, also complained about the last-minute nature of Iranian presidential politics. “Nowhere in the world do you see with one day left to register for the election, that there would be such big changes” Aref said.

Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Saeed Jalili all registered on May 12 for the presidential election, the final day of the one-week window, which is approximately one month before the June 14 election.

Aref continued, “Everywhere in the world, political parties introduce themselves, their policies and their staff one year before the elections. … Rafsanjani’s registration put all of my campaigning to rest and after 11 days [when the Guardian Council disqualified him], we began our campaigning again. Under these conditions, how can one expect us to talk about our activities and our cabinet?”

On Sunday, Mohammad Ali Najafi said that that the coalition of Reformist groups had created a seven-member panel that would “negotiate with some of the leaders of the country and the two candidates under consideration (Aref and Rouhani) toward a coalition, and based on polling across the country, to create the necessary environment and mechanisms for a consensuses and coalition.” Najafi, who introduced himself as the spokesman for this panel, said, “When we reach a final decision, we will announce our single candidate on Saturday.”

Neither Rafsanjani nor Khatami have endorsed a candidate in this election yet. It is not certain that they will. However, Khatami’s website did issue a statement from a council of Khatami’s advisers on Sunday that encouraged Rouhani and Aref to reach a coalition.