Khatami drops out of race to back Mousavi

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Well, that was quick.

Iran's reformist former President Mohammad Khatami said he had withdrawn his candidacy for the June presidential election and would back another moderate candidate, Iranian media reported on Tuesday.

Analysts had seen Khatami as President Mohammad Ahmadinejad's main pro-reform challenger.

"I announce my withdrawal from candidacy," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Khatami as saying in a statement.

Khatami said he would support former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi in the presidential contest.

I don't know enough about Iranian politics to tell whether this is a good idea or not, but two things are worth noting:

1) Apparently Khatami is a bit of a lightning rod for conservatives and if he had been the reformist candidate it might have galvanized them to hold their noses and vote for Ahmadinejad again, so in this case perhaps it's a good decision in the same way Obama never was a lightning rod for conservatives whereas Hillary Clinton might have been if she had handily won the primaries. On the other hand,
2) John Kerry handily won the primaries in 2004 because the Democrats were mostly concerned with electability, and at the time Kerry looked like just the person they needed - a war hero, lots of experience...but then Kerry lost the election. In 2008 though the Democratic primaries were exceptionally bruising, but resulted in a lot more party membership and a stronger organization than would have been the case otherwise.

Given the state of the economy in Iran though it might be easier to make the argument that the country needs change than in the US in 2004 when the economy hadn't yet tanked and the "victory" of the war in Iraq was still fresh in everybody's mind. Ahmadinejad has also lost the bogeyman of George Bush that used to be so easy to conjure up to scare people when he was in power.

And if Mousavi wins then Iranian politicians can go back to their intellectual-looking selves that I remember in the 1990s when I first started paying attention to the news. I know that sounds a bit silly, but that was the first thing I remember thinking about Iran: that their diplomats just looked sharp as a tack. Here's the foreign minister from 1997 to 2005:

who was replaced with this guy (the current foreign minister):

And then of course with Ahmadinejad vs. Mousavi there's no comparison when it comes to style. Ahmadinejad doesn't even have glasses.


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