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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs