04 June 2009

Iran election watch: Mir-Hossein Mousavi

The leading reformist candidate in the 12 June Iranian Presidential election is Mir-Hossein Mousavi, currently President of the Iranian Academy of the Arts. Mousavi served as Prime Minister of Iran from 1981-89, a term which was almost completely coextensive with the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. He is well regarded for his management of Iran during that very difficult period.

He has not held a government post since constitutional reforms in 1989 eliminated the post of Prime Minister. He declined to stand in the Presidential election of 1997, which led the reformists to turn to his former Cabinet Minister Mohammad Khatami. Khatami campaigned with public support from Mousavi and won in a landslide.

When Mousavi announced his intention to stand in the current election, Khatami withdrew, not wanting to split the reformist vote. Mousavi is seen as more conservative than Khatami and would be regarded by the reformists as likely to face less opposition from the conservatives. He has nevertheless sought the support of Khatami in the campaign.

He is critical of incumbent President Ahmadinejad’s economic management, and of other aspects of Ahmadinejad’s time in office including his Holocaust denial.

Among the policy positions espoused by Mousavi are a freer information environment, including the elimination of restrictions on private ownership of television stations (all currently state-owned). In a national address broadcast on Tuesday 2 June he said that the country’s development is not possible without freedom of the press, and that Iran “should move towards a state in which the government is obligated to provide citizens with information”.

At a recent rally at the University of Tabriz, near his home town in East Azerbaijan Province in Northwestern Iran, Mousavi denounced the pressure put on student activists through expulsions and jail terms during Mr Ahmadinejad’s term. He said (see New York Times report of 30 May) that the goal of the 1979 revolution was freedom:

We wanted to become free and progressive in the world, not faced with backward ideas and notions today.

He wants to make the law enforcement agencies responsible to the President, who is elected by the people, rather than to the Supreme Leader as at present, and he wants to curb the operation of the “Moral Police”.

Mousavi has declared that he will review the laws that discriminate against women, and that he wants women to be treated equally and have the power to attain the highest levels of decision-making. No doubt he has his heart in this; his wife Zahra Rahnavard served as Chancellor of Alzahra University in Tehran from 1988 to 2006, and was the first Iranian woman to hold such a post since the Iranian revolution. She was replaced after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and the purging of reformist officials from government posts, and was attacked by Ahmadinejad during a debate with Mousavi on 3 June. Mousavi responded that attacking a candidate’s spouse was an “immoral strategy”.

Mousavi is in favour of lowering tensions with other countries, and could be expected to take seriously President Obama’s overtures towards Iran. He will not, however, give way on Iran’s civil nuclear power program, preferring to try to build international confidence that it is for peaceful purposes only.

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