Playing the Ace card after Iran’s Nowruz holidays

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

With less than a week left to the Persian New Year Nowruz the markets are bustling as expected, and less than 100 days left to the Presidential election this market is even hotter. Despite the approaching New Year and the two weeks of holidays that follow, this market is booming with newspapers full of articles and news flashes about the election.

So far, Hassan Rohani the former head of the National Security Council, a reformist and clergy not only announced his candidacy, but also named the two people who would run his campaign as his top advisors. Another interesting figure is Mohammad Reza Bahonar a conservative controversial Member of Parliament or MP. What makes him interesting is his affiliation with the former assassinated Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Having served as Prime Minister for only 15 days, Mohammad Javad Bahonar was assassinated in 1981 along with then-President Ali Rajai and other cabinet members by the Mojahedin-e Khalq.

Though it is unclear who a charismatic conservative candidate would be, it is clear that Ahmadinejad and his people are waiting to play their Ace card

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Now his brother Mohammad Reza Bahonar who served as MP many times (thanks to his association with his assassinated brother), currently serves as Deputy Speaker of Parliament of Iran.

Naturally being close to Ali Larijani, the chairman of the Parliament, Bahonar is one of the combatant enemies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and one of his bigger critics, voicing his criticism of the current president on a daily basis.

Election race

Coming from an old bone political family in Iran, Mohammad Reza Bahonar even warned former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani not to enter the election race. Talking to the media in Tehran, Bahonar said that if Hashemi Rafsanjani decided to enter the race, he wouldn't give up his candidacy in Hashemi Rahsanani’s favor. He even advised the former president, "He is better off not entering this race again!"

From the reformist camp, on Saturday, a group of 91 reformists wrote a letter to former President Mohammad Khatami, inviting him to accept the nomination. It is not clear if Khatami has interested to run but what is clear is that the reformists despite the bitter taste left from the last election, are willing to participate in this election again.

Four years ago two reformist candidates, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as conservative Mohsen Rezaee raised doubts about the accuracy of the election results and Ahmadinejad’s declared victory. As a result of the perceived fraud in elections, Iranians went on mass demonstrations, sparking the short-lived Green Revolution and causing Mousavi and Karroubi to be placed under house arrest two years ago.

Recently Mohammad Khatami proposed that to restore faith in the elections and national reconciliation, all political prisoners should be freed.

Gap between reformists

Not one political prisoner was released in the past few days. Instead more activists and reformist journalists have been arrested. Most recently, Hassan Laghmanian former MP and member of Mosharekat party along with four more political reformists were arrested in Hamadan city where they were about to embark on a trip to Tehran in order to meet Khatami about the upcoming election.

Intense sensitivity about the reformists still exists among members of the conservative camps who ally themselves to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But interestingly, a gap has opened between reformists who left Iran after the election four years ago and reformists who remained in Iran. Outsiders claim to lead the reform movement in the absence of Mousavi and Karroubi, while Khatami who has remained in Iran acts differently.

Mohammad Khatami surprised self-exiled reformists at the last parliamentary election when he turned up at one of the polling stations to cast his vote publicly. The reaction of the exiled reformists, who boycotted the elections, was beyond expectation.

As a spiritual leader of the reform movement, Khatami proved that he is still the key leader and kingmaker among the party. He was the one who even made Mir Houssian Moussavi popular by entering his campaign and supporting him four years ago. Despite the public’s disappointment in his presidency, Khatami remains highly respected and very popular. His potential candidacy can shake his opponents no matter to which party they belong. It appears as if Khatami is not cross, doesn’t wish to boycott the election, and doesn't want to simply give up because his friends and allies are in prison or in house arrest.

Though it is unclear who a charismatic conservative candidate would be, it is clear that Ahmadinejad and his people are waiting to play their Ace card, not now but after the holidays.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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