With Khatami’s candidacy settled, the landscape of Iranian elections has undergone significant changes.
The entrance of Seyed Mohammad Khatami means the non-entrance of many other potential candidates. This includes left-wing and right-wing, male and female, religious and secular, minority and majority candidates, because most of those whose names were discussed as potential candidates in the upcoming presidential election had conditioned their candidacy or non-candidacy on Mohammad Khatami’s decision to run or not to run.
Now, with the official announcement of the former president’s candidacy, the situation of almost all reformist candidates is clear. In the reformist camp, most potential candidates will defend Khatami.
Khatami’s announcement also concluded much of the doubt and discussion inside the conservative camp. None of the candidates belonging to the ruling faction, despite rumors surrounding their candidacy did not have the courage to official announce their candidacy – not until Khatami had announced his decision and Ahmadinejad’s position was clarified. Now that tactics and pressures to convince Khatami not to run have failed, most of these candidates have no choice but to wait for the Supreme Leader’s position to be clarified, which would determine whether other conservative candidates are able to compete in the election, or they all must step aside in Ahmadinejad’s favor.
In this midst remain individuals and figures who believe they can have an influence and want to capitalize on the country’s election atmosphere. By introducing independent candidates, they aim at questioning the “freeness and fairness” of the upcoming election.
Khatami’s candidacy, on the other hand, has created new dilemmas for individuals and certain political currents that have so far been unable to clarify their position with respect to the Islamic Republic and settle on a strategy of tolerance or resistance. This is a group that has been swerving between “reformation” and “revolution” in recent years depending on international and domestic conditions, and still does not know whether it is seeking to “reform the regime” or ”replace the regime,” and what tools, tactics and strategies are to be employed for either of those aims.
The coming to power of Barack Obama meant that America has bypassed the option of “regime change” in Iran, moving closer to the European position of changing the “regime’s behavior.” This “change” means setting aside the policy of “exporting democracy and human rights by missiles and warships,” which, during America’s occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, comprised the sweet dream of many Iranians, especially in the ranks of the youth- a sweet and delightful dream that subsequently turned into a nightmare.
In light of new international environment and domestic crises afflicting Iran, the coming of Khatami can usher “change” in the worldview of many who, until yesterday, counted on “change from outside” rather than “reforms from within.”
The experiences of the past three or four years has led many former boycotters of the ninth presidential election, especially women’s rights and student activists, to the conclusion that ”freedom and democracy” are internal developments, however difficult, costly and time-consuming they may be.
One way of reaching “democracy and human rights” is to participate in elections and support a candidate who is better in comparison, or at least less costly, even if the choice is one between ”bad” and “worse.” The experiences of the past three and a half years show well that how much the presidency of someone like Ahmadinejad can affect the lives of everyone.