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A subdued poll campaign

S. Nagesh Kumar

Rafsanjani is front-runner in race to succeed Khatami

TEHERAN: The cacophony usually associated with electioneering in India is missing in Iran where about 47 million people will elect the successor to President Mohamad Khatami on June 17.

Outdoor publicity is subdued, television channels remain relatively less obsessed with the elections while many youth seem disinterested about the impending change of guard. Banners and wall paintings are few and far between. Many of them show the candidates in the benign presence of the erstwhile Supreme Leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeni, or the present leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The low decibel campaign does not, however, detract from the sharp division between the reformists and the right-wingers belonging to the hardline Revolutionary Guards who call the shots in many important institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Among the eight regime-approved candidates, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric, is easily the frontrunner if one were to go by the opinion polls. "It is only a race for the silver medal between Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf and Ali Larijani, both right-wingers", a journalist working in Ettalat, a Government-run daily, told this correspondent. A conservative when in office and reformist when out of it, Mr. Rafsanjani is now playing a different role — a moderating force ready to accept change.

Decisive factor

Change is what Iranian leaders can ignore at their peril. The younger generation is impatient with the pace of reforms. They will not allow themselves to be treated as pawns on the ideological chess-board of their leaders.Most of them were born after the Ayatollah Khomenei-led Islamic Revolution in 1979 and cannot relate themselves directly to it. At least one million jobs are needed to satisfy the swelling ranks of the youth but the Government is able to create only 7,00,000.

Recognising that the youth will be a decisive factor during the elections and a key influence thereafter, Mr. Rafsanjani admits that there are new aspirations which need fresh thinking, quite different from the conservative line pursued at the beginning of the revolution or at the end of the devastating eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war.

Not all agree with the view that the plank of reforms is Mr. Rafsanjani's exclusive copyright. Among those who disagree is the Government spokesman, Ramazanzadeh, whose party opposes the top cleric. "Reformists vs. conservatives is no longer an issue. All parties talk of reforms. In fact, it is the need of the society to talk of reforms, especially social and cultural. We cannot predict who will win the elections", he said.

While reformists want faster changes, even they admit that the Revolution has not derailed the modernisation process. The rapidly growing road network, completion of the first phase of Teheran Metrorail and the expansion of Iran Khodro, manufacturer of the popular Samand car, are cited as evidence of the changes.

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