The elections in Iran are nearly a year away, but it’s encouraging to see the emerging possibility of a new bid for the presidency by former President Mohammad Khatami. Last week, he hinted that he’s considering running against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the nutball whose support lies mainly in the paramilitary Basij force and elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Can Khatami ju-jitsu the all-powerful Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and his election-rigging Guardian Council? Can Khatami loom so large that even Khamenei might choose to support him over Ahmadinejad? Might Khamenei decide to back Khatami as part of a strategy to open a dialogue with the United States?
The rumors of a Khatami bid come against the backdrop of a general strike by the bazaaris, the merchant class, who closed the Tehran bazaar in protest against Ahmadinejad’s failed economic policies and a new, 3% value-added tax proposal. The New York Times noted that in 1979 it was the bazaaris who sparked the revolt against the shah, adding: “This is the first time since the revolution that they have protested on such a large scale.” The bazaaris reopened the market on Monday after talks with Ahmadinejad, who rescinded the tax.
Another reformist challenge to Ahmadinejad will come from Mehdi Karrubi — like Khatami, and unlike Ahmadinejad, another cleric . Karrabi, who favors resuming ties with the United States,is the first announced candidate in the 2009 elections. According to the Tehran Times, Karrubi said that he open to dialogue with Khatami, if Khatami chooses to run, about coordinating their efforts.
On Monday, several top world leaders — including Kofi Annan, the former head of the UN, the former prime ministers of Italy and France, and the former president of Ireland — visited Tehran to join Khatami in a “dialogue of civilizations.” Reports AP:
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan and several former European leaders attended a conference on religion in Tehran on Monday, offering what some saw as a gesture of support for the moderate opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosting the gathering.