Iranian Reformists Rally Behind Moderate Presidential Candidate

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: There's plenty of political dissent in Iran too. On Friday Iranians go to the polls to elect a new president. Iranian journalist Shirin Jaafari is based here in Boston and she's been joining us regularly to unpack the elections in Iran. She says as of this week the candidates on the ballot are all conservatives, with the exception of one moderate.

Shirin Jaafari: His name is Hassan Rohani. He headed the nuclear negotiations in the late 1990s, and he considers himself a moderate and not a reformist. But the reformists have been consolidating over him. It seems like now they have a candidate. And what's been happening lately is that people have been getting energized and excited about this because before we thought this is going to be an election between same sort of candidates, more conservative candidates, but right now, there seems to be not exactly a reformist but a more moderate voice in the game.

Werman: Right, so a moderate candidate, Rohani, gets support from reformists. Is that a sign that he might actually win?

Jaafari: It's really difficult to say. All the powers have been trying to avoid having a reformist in the game, and already what we see coming out from the newspapers in Iran, more conservative newspapers in Iran, is that they have been starting to attack him and also the fact that he is in the game doesn't mean he's going to have a lot of support.

Werman: When Iranians head to the polls this Friday, what's going to be the most important issues on their minds?

Jaafari: I think what you hear most from, coming out from Iran, is the economic situation and also the sanctions. The sanctions have been hitting hard. The Iranian people are having trouble. The economy is in shambles. And you hear also that in the talks of the candidates, they have been focusing on this a lot in the debates, in the television debates. And what it looks like is that the economy is going to be the main issue on their mind.

Werman: Now, these sanctions, of course, we remember they were imposed by the West and the United States to clamp down on Iran's nuclear program. The idea of sanctions a little abstract. Give us one example of how they affect ordinary people in Iran.

Jaafari: So an example that I can give, I was talking to a pharmacist in Tehran last week and she was telling me a few months ago there was a shortage of drugs, some specific drugs, such as cancer drugs, hemophilia, and others, people just could not find them, there was a shortage. And this is because the Central Bank in Iran and some other major banks are sanctioned and companies cannot pay for the drugs.

Werman: Now back in 2009 a lot of people took the streets after the election, part of that Green Revolution. A lot of people felt it was a bogus election, demanded the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. How are they feeling about this election, given what happened four years ago?

Jaafari: Well, a lot of people are thinking about not voting. They say, we're going to stay home, there's nobody who represents us, we're not going to vote. There are others who say this is our chance, we can make a change. Not voting for anybody would mean a bad, a worse situation and we should somehow get in the race, be stay active and not stay at home. So there's this sort of two-sided feeling right now in Iran, and people still debating. There's only two days left but I hear a lot of people still debating whether to vote or not.

Werman: So following this vote, Shirin, what's likely to happen to Iran's attitudes on certain policies, toward Israel, toward the West, nuclear policy? I mean, if it's a moderate or a kind of an analagous person to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, will anything really change?

Jaafari: It's been interesting, all the television debates candidates have been opening up about what their plans would be for the nuclear negotiations and all that. What was interesting was that everybody was complaining about how Iran has handled the nuclear issues so far, so I don't know if this is just to get the votes, that's going to change afterwards, but the fact that this is mentioned on state TV, on live debates, it's interesting. The other thing is that the Supreme Leader is the final decider on these things. We've seen this many times, people coming in as president, they say one thing, the Supreme Leader says another thing, so it's always difficult to see if they would also have an effect as a president.

Werman: And what happens to Ahmedinejad come Saturday morning?

Jaafari: I think Ahmedinejad has recently been very quiet. It's very interesting comparing what he was saying before, that he has documents he's going to show off and he's going to reveal things.

Werman: He's going to be whistleblower.

Jaafari: Maybe. He's been really quiet recently and we haven't heard from him. I don't know what his plans are but the fact that he's quiet is interesting.

Werman: Journalist Shirin Jaafari, who's been speaking with us at The World regularly about Iran. Thank you.

Jaafari: Thank you, Marco.