EU courts Tehran to boost moderates before polls
LONDON, April 30, (Agencies): Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticised President Hassan Rouhani for saying his detente policy with the West had caused the threat of war to fade as tensions intensify in Tehran before May election. Rouhani, a pragmatist whose election in 2013 led to a diplomatic thaw between Iran and the West, championed in 2015 a landmark deal in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for lifting of international sanctions. A standoff between Rouhani, who is seeking a second term, and Khamenei’s allies, who opposed the nuclear deal, has intensified in recent months ahead of the May 19 vote. “Some say since we took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by the state media on Sunday.
“It’s been people’s presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country,” he added. Rouhani faces competition from hardliners who have criticised his economic record, saying detente with the West and the nuclear concessions had yet to yield economic benefits. “The nuclear deal was a national achievement. We should make use of its advantages. But some have started a fight over it,” Rouhani said on Sunday. Rouhani urged voters on Saturday to prevent “extremism” returning to Iran, saying the country could face greater authoritarianism if he was replaced by a hardline rival.
Among Rouhani’s challengers are Ebrahim Raisi, an infl uential cleric with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, and conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guards commander. Rouhani told Iranians on Saturday they could face greater authoritarianism if they replace him with a hardline rival in May’s election. Rouhani was the surprise winner of the last presidential vote, in 2013, after eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose re-election for a second term in 2009 caused mass protests and a severe security crackdown. He now faces serious competition from hardliners, some of whom are close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has criticised Rouhani’s economic record, saying his detente with the West and concessions on Iran’s nuclear work had yet to yield economic benefits.
“We will not let them bring the security and police atmosphere back to the country,” Rouhani told a rally in the city of Yazd, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. “Iranians will prove to the world at the May 19 election that the era of violence, extremism and pressures in our country is over and Iran is pursuing the path of reason.” Rouhani still retains considerable support, especially among Iran’s large bloc of young, urban voters attracted to his vision of greater social freedoms and an end to Islamic clerical interference in their personal lives, analysts say. However, human rights activists say his administration has achieved little on personal freedoms or freeing political prisoners and has been more focused on reducing Iran’s international isolation. Rouhani said in a televised speech that “freedom is the most important issue for the Iranians” and that he had ordered the intelligence ministry not to “interfere in people’s privacy”.
Meanwhile, Ebrahim Raisi condemned President Hassan Rouhani’s economic management Saturday, speaking at an election campaign rally in a packed Tehran stadium. Addressing thousands of supporters who waved Iranian fl ags and held pictures of their candidate, he blamed Rouhani and foreign powers for Iran’s economic woes. “Today, 30 percent of our young people are out of jobs and unemployment is over 12 percent,” Raisi said. “Does this situation have to continue? Do we have to wait for foreigners to fix our problems?” His supporters chanted “Raisi, we love you!” at his first major campaign rally ahead of a May 19 presidential election in which he is hoping to unseat moderate incumbent Rouhani. Raisi, a veteran judge, and Tehran’s conservative mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf are the two main conservative candidates challenging reformists Rouhani and First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri. “He’s the most competent candidate because he is a believer, he is healthy, committed, revolutionary and thinks of the people,” Seraj, a 50-year-old retiree, told AFP of Raisi.