Addressing a packed Tehran stadium, presidential candidate Hassan Rohani urged young supporters to overcome their frustration over the lack of jobs and Iran’s pariah status and back him in the June 14 election.
“If you want Iranian officials to stop presenting inaccurate economic data, if you want the rial to regain its value, if you want the Iranian passport to be respected again, come to the ballot boxes,” Rohani, one of eight candidates in the June 14 election, told about 9,000 people at a June 8 rally in Tehran.
After the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, activists accused authorities of using ballot fraud to deny a reformist candidate victory. Having witnessed the subsequent crackdown on protesters, some young Iranians said they had no plans to vote this time, and Rohani is seeking to persuade them to overcome their disillusion.
Supporters entering the stadium June 8 were handed purple wrist ribbons, the color he’s using on campaign posters. The move may be inspired by Mir Hossein Mousavi’s 2009 campaign, which became so associated with the color green that the opposition wave born out of post-vote protests became known as the Green Movement.
“If we look at Rohani’s rhetoric, his appearance and his campaign, he’s the closest among candidates in this race to a reformist,” said Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Middle East politics at Qatar University. “He could attract some of the young voters.”
While all candidates say they back Iran’s right to have a civilian nuclear program, Rohani, who was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator under former President Mohammad Khatami, and some others say technological progress shouldn’t come at the expense of the economy and the well-being of the population.
“It’s fine for centrifuges to spin if people are also getting by,” he said in last week’s debate.
He has also attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of an economy that’s set to shrink 1.3 percent this year, a second straight contraction, according to the International Monetary Fund. Sanctions imposed to halt Iran’s nuclear program have caused the currency to plunge and inflation to surge.
Most people at Rohani’s rally were middle-class Iranians in their early 20s, and some also wore purple headscarves, headbands or T-shirts. A spillover crowd lined the street outside. Hundreds of policemen and dozens of police vans were stationed outside the stadium to prevent the possibility of spontaneous protests.
As many as seven people were detained after a rally a week earlier in northern Tehran at which Rohani’s supporters chanted slogans calling for the release of Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, the reformist candidates in 2009, who are under house arrest. At the June 8 meeting, when a group of girls began similar chants, Rohani’s organizers urged them to stop, and at the end of the rally the candidate told people to leave quietly to avoid confrontations.
The state-run Mehr news agency said Iran’s Guardian Council, which screened presidential candidates to ensure their loyalty to the Islamic Republic and eliminated more than 600, may reconsider Rohani’s candidacy, citing those pro-opposition chants as one reason. In a later report on Asre-Iran news website, an official at watchdog body denied that, saying the council will meet today and Rohani isn’t on its agenda.
Rohani is the only cleric among the candidates. His careful grooming contrasts with Ahmadinejad, whose unkempt appearance and casual dress initially connected him with some voters.
Rohani has spoken in favor of increased freedom for the press and non-governmental organizations. He has also called for the easing of social restrictions on the population, criticizing the government’s “unwarranted interventions” during a June 7 debate.
“I didn’t want to vote, but after the political debate on Friday night, I decided to vote for Rohani,” said Shaghayegh, a 20-year-old university student who attended his rally and declined to give her surname. “Our country’s image in the world has been destroyed. I want a president who I can be proud of and who can help us be proud of our country.”
Marzieh, a 23-year-old law student said she would vote for Rohani because of his message of political tolerance. “Hopefully, he will allow different points of view to coexist in the country, unlike under Ahmadinejad,” she said.
Since 2005, when Ahmadinejad was first elected, Iran has been battered by sanctions that have restricted financial transactions, cut oil exports and weakened the rial. Inflation in April was 32 percent, and a quarter of all Iranians aged 15 to 29 were unemployed in the last Iranian year ending March 20, according to official figures.
“Some want the path of the previous eight years to continue, some are still proud of domestic poverty and foreign-imposed humiliation,” Rohani told his supporters. “I will seek to bring back stability to the country through prudence, planning and hope.”
Azar, whose 54 years of age put her among the oldest at Rohani’s rally, said she came to accompany her three daughters.
“After the events of 2009, I’m not so hopeful about the outcome of this election,” Azar said. “But these kids want freedom, and they believe we are long overdue for a change.”
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