BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Jim Muir in Terhan
"There's a healthy scepticism about the promises of politicians"
 real 56k

Friday, 1 June, 2001, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Iran election: People and policies
1999 protest
Students express their anger with the government
By Jim Muir in Tehran

Iranians have voted in the election for their eighth presidential election since the Islamic republic was founded in 1979.

The incumbent, reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has stood again. He is widely expected to win easily, though he is being challenged by an unusually large field of nine other candidates, most of them independent conservatives.

Click here for a guide of how Iran votes.

But despite reformist victories at the polls, it is hard-line right-wingers who still hold a lot of the real power in the country, and they have been using it to block Mr Khatami's reform plans.

There may be nine other candidates in the field but for those attending a Khatami rally, there is only one. For many of them, and against his own wishes, the modest, scholarly cleric is a hero, a champion, a man who has touched their hearts.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami was reluctant to stand again
They waited for hours in the hot sun, and when he finally appeared, it was to a hero's welcome.

This was to be the only big speech of the whole election campaign but, there was no wild rhetoric and no big promises. It was just the same vision that he held out four years ago - of an Iran moving slowly and painfully, but inevitably, towards a future of democracy and justice for all.

This was the message that won him 20 million votes last time. And it is still striking a chord now, not least among legions of young women looking for a brighter future.


Mahshid Jaafari voted for Mr Khatami four years ago and she will do so again now. But she wants to do more than that so she has joined the organisers of the pro-Khatami party.

I think everybody in the world wants everything that we want

Mahshid Jaafari
She has decided to take the message out into the streets, to help get the voters in.

Mahshid has thrown herself into the campaign, giving up her spare time to join other youngsters at the party's youth headquarters. Here, they plan strategy and ways of persuading other young people that the best hope for their future is to go out and vote Khatami.

"I think everybody in the world wants everything that we want," she said. "It's not different from other countries. Freedom's freedom. Everybody knows what is that. "

Mohammad Khatami (reformist): incumbent
Ali Fallahian (conservative): former intelligence minister
Hassan Ghaffourifard (conservative): former MP
Mostafa Hashemi-Taba (centrist): founding member of the Executives of Construction party
Abdollah Jasbi (conservative): head of Islamic Azad University
Mahmud Kashani (conservative): university lecturer and jurist
Mansur Razavi (conservative): Tehran city councillor
Shahabeddin Sadr (conservative): former MP
Ali Shamkhani (conservative): defence minister
Ahmad Tavakkoli (conservative): former labour minister and newspaper publisher
Mahshid certainly has no doubts about what she wants and what she's doing. She comes from a background that is shared by many people on the other side of the political divide - her family is deeply religious.

Her father was killed in the war with Iraq in the 1980s so he is considered a martyr. Despite her admiration for President Khatami, she says this election isn't just about him.

"I think it's very important because this is the election not for Mr Khatami. It's election of reform," she said.

It is clear that President Khatami is still popular enough to win this election easily - and that is what everybody here expects.

But his control of the presidency, and his supporters' control of parliament, doesn't mean his reform programme is making headway.

It has been heavily blocked by entrenched hardliners. That is why these young people are trying to ensure that he is returned to office with the greatest possible number of votes behind him because they know that much of the real power is in other hands.


At Friday prayers in Tehran, the speakers are ultra-conservative. Many of them, like Ayatollah Ali Jannati, are men of unelected power.

He heads the Council of Guardians, a crucial bastion of the right-wing. It has - and it exercises - the power to veto legislation and to vet candidates for elections.

This is the election not for Mr Khatami, it's election of reform

Mashid Jaafari
Ali Fallahian was once Minister of Intelligence. He was accused by a German court of ordering the murder of Iranian dissidents abroad. Some reformists say he was behind the killing of dissidents at home as well.

Mr Fallahian is the only real hardliner among the nine other candidates competing with Mohammad Khatami. But he is moving with the times.

Like all the others, his campaign is focused on the economy and jobs for the young. But he also stresses religious values, as this campaign worker makes clear.

"Unfortunately we can see some young people in the streets who are moving away from Islam," he said.

"Little by little they are forgetting their faith. We need someone who can attract these young people back, and teach them Islam."

All the other contestants are independent, moderate conservatives. Some of them, like Hassan Ghaffourifard, have moved over to the middle ground, adopting a reformist agenda and parlance.

It is very largely a measure of the huge pressure for change coming from a vast new generation of young Iranians.

New ideas

Nasser Hadian, Professor of Politics, Tehran University, explains: "We have probably more than 70% of our population under 30, and at least 60% of these young people - their personality have been shaped after the revolution.

"These young individuals have been in contact with the outside world, the internet to communicate with others, and also presence of satellite and reading many books and being familiar with new ideas and modern ideas.

"They are very different, although they may have conservative parents, still their wish is a different kind of things."

We need someone who can attract these young people back, and teach them Islam

Ali Fallahian
And the different things are already here - although in some parts of Iran, more than others. In some parts of Tehran, the Islamic dress code for women has slipped in a way that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. The shops are full of Western fashions.

And the internet, whether in cafes or on computers at home, has made globalisation a reality here.

It has become part of the youth culture. The politicians simply can't ignore it, because the voting age here is just 15.

Everywhere in Iran, but especially in the countryside, people are feeling the squeeze of economic hardship - another source of pressure for change.

Above all, it is unemployment that's the main complaint.

People in country areas aren't sitting round discussing the finer points of reformist theory. What they are discussing, are the bread and butter issues, such as the fact that one out of every five people here is living below the poverty line. So there is a healthy scepticism about the promises of the politicians in Tehran.

Bound to win

Economic neglect is a source of resentment in country areas. Many young people have given up on finding a future here, and gone away to the big cities. Right-wing critics accuse President Khatami of neglecting the economy in favour of politics. He and all the other nine candidates have promised to focus on job creation as a top priority.

It is no secret that Mohammad Khatami didn't want to stand in an election that he's bound to win.

He knows the strength of the hardliners who have been blocking reform. He also knows what hopes have been pinned on him by millions yearning for change.

The pressures are building up and nobody can predict what the next four years will bring.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories