OpinionIran in the World PressBitter Rafsanjani faces wilderness after gamble backfires

Bitter Rafsanjani faces wilderness after gamble backfires

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AFP: Having spent a quarter of a century at the nexus of Iran’s theocracy, a bitter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani faces an uncertain future after losing his greatest, and possibly last, political gamble. A former two-term president, parliament speaker and confidant of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, it is hard to imagine the Islamic republic without one of Iran’s most recognisable figures. AFP

by Laurent Lozano

TEHRAN – Having spent a quarter of a century at the nexus of Iran’s theocracy, a bitter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani faces an uncertain future after losing his greatest, and possibly last, political gamble.

A former two-term president, parliament speaker and confidant of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, it is hard to imagine the Islamic republic without one of Iran’s most recognisable figures.

But this is what may become reality after Rafsanjani’s stunning loss to Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad, possibly consigning him to permanent and humiliating political exile.

When the 70-year-old ayatollah finally entered Iran’s presidential election after much public wringing of hands, he could never have anticipated his bid would end with a loss to the austere, hardline Tehran mayor.

Many believed then that he was a racing certainty to win and a conspicuous lack of campaign appearances until the very last moment suggests that the regime veteran did too.

In the election campaign, the man who was president from 1989 to 1997 staged something of a political metamorphosis, going out of his way to dispel the image of a stuffy, wealthy cleric out of touch with Iran’s youth.

But it was not enough to win over broad-based support from reformists and a wider apathetic electorate, with Rafsanjani dogged to the end by claims that he is fantastically and secretly rich.

As Ahmadinejad celebrates his victory and prepares for office, Rafsanjani has been left licking his wounds and lambasting the process as fundamentally flawed.

“All the means of the regime were used in an organised and illegal way to intervene in the election,” he said in a furious statement, lashing out at the hardline Guardians Council which vets the vote.

“I entered this election uniquely to serve the revolution, Islam, Iran and the people… I hope the country will be cleared of these enemies and profiteers who are without logic or faith.”

The son of a pistachio farmer in the country’s arid southwest, Rafsanjani went on to become an early follower of Khomeini and a leading figure in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

He studied theology in the Shiite clerical centre of Qom at the age of 14, participated in the anti-monarchy movement during the 1960s and was frequently arrested by the shah’s secret police.

His revolutionary credentials — which include a bullet wound to the stomach — have never been in doubt, but unlike other top regime officials he has been at ease tackling sensitive issues head-on.

He even cautiously floated the idea of reopening relations with the United States during the election and possibly paid the price for paying too much attention to international issues over domestic concerns in the election.

Some diplomats have said his defeat spells bad news for delicate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, where he was seen as a moderating influence.

Rafsanjani may have been hostile to the rapid pace of social reform that outgoing President Mohammad Khatami had been pushing for, but he did promote the role of women. His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, is a prominent champion of women’s rights.

But all is not rosy in Rafsanjani’s past. His presidency was marred by a string of grisly murders and assassinations of dissidents and regime opponents at home and abroad.

On the economic front, he presided over a post-war boom, but one marred by high inflation and mounting foreign debt.

While Rafsanjani insists he is a man of humble means, many Iranians beg to differ and allege he controls assets ranging from hotels to automobile factories, grocery stores to pistachio plantations.

In clear snipe at his rival, both of whose sons work in the oil ministry, Ahmadinejad has alleged that Iran’s greatest natural asset was controlled by a single “family”.

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