Khatami Withdrawal Shakes Up Iran Presidential Race


Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's sudden withdrawal from the country's upcoming presidential race just five weeks after he had declared his candidacy has led some analysts to question whether he actually intended to run for office or was only trying to force the hand of another candidate.

Ken Katzman of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service here in Washington says that Khatami was only running to try to get another figure, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, to enter the race so he could get out.

"Khatami had always wanted Mousavi to get into the race and be the reformist candidate.  When Mousavi seemed to indicate that he would not get into the race, then Khatami got in so that the reformists would have at least one strong candidate.  But now that Mousavi is getting in, there is no need for both of them to be in the race," he said.

According to Iranian media reports, Khatami had called on Mousavi early last month to make up his mind about whether he was going to run.  When Mousavi made no move, Khatami announced his candidacy on February 8.  Then last week, Mousavi jumped in.  On Monday, Khatami got out.

Most analysts say Khatami was at best a reluctant candidate.

Reva Bhalla of the private intelligence firm Stratfor says there was more interest in a Khatami candidacy in the West than there was among many Iranians.

"I know there is definite support for him inside Iran.  But it is more exaggerated in the West.  It is kind of wishful thinking, where we just really want him to come back and kind of guide Iran in a different direction," said Bhalla.

Running as a reformist, Mohammad Khatami served two terms - from 1997 to 2005.  But the 2005 election saw the surprise ascendancy of the then little-known Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran.** 

The conservatives, or principlists as they call themselves, have little regard for Khatami and his ideas.  On the other side of Iran's political spectrum, he is the subject of deep arguments.  Some reformists remain loyal to him.  

Alex Vatanka of Jane's Defense publications says many Iranians are profoundly disillusioned at how little he was able to accomplish against an entrenched power structure during eight years in office.

"He is a guy who clearly overwhelmed the Iranian electorate, back in 1997 at least, in terms of the message he brought with him, the promises he made.  And the succeeding eight years, from '97 onward, he underwhelmed them when it came to delivery.  And I think this is still alive in a lot of peoples' imaginations," he said.

Vatanka adds that Khatami lacked self-confidence, in sharp contrast to the man who succeeded him.

"I just do not think, by the way, that Khatami has the personality for it.  This is one of the things that we have to realize.  Khatami is far less confident in himself than, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known for overconfidence, when really often he clearly does not have the grounding," he said.

Analyst Ken Katzman says conservative and reformist politicians believed that a Khatami candidacy had the potential to open up some still sensitive wounds. 

"There was a fear that if Khatami got in, this would create a very, very divisive election - a fight to the finish almost between reformists and conservatives.  And it would be very divisive, potentially violent, potentially very tense.  And Khatami really did not want to create that tension," said Katzman.
The Iranian presidential election comes at a critical time, when a new administration in Washington has indicated a willingness to engage Tehran.  

There is a belief in Washington, analysts say, that a reformist would be easier to deal with than the conservative, tough-talking President Ahmadinejad.  But they add that in the end, any decision on dialogue with the United States rests not with the president, whoever he may be, but with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

**Text corrected 24 March 2009.  Sentence removed stating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the first president of post-revolutionary Iran who was not an Islamic cleric.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs