The List: Iran's Presidential Wannabes

Meet the four men vying to lead the Islamic Republic.

Rick Gershon/Getty ImagesMahmoud Ahmadinejad

Credentials: Incumbent president of Iran

Power base: The president draws his support from conservative clerics, as well as the disaffected middle and working classes in rural Iran and the margins of major cities. During his presidency he traveled to almost every part of the country, always working to convince poor voters that he is one of them. His personal style of campaigning is rare in the Islamic Republic, and his rallies consistently draw massive crowds. He also enjoys some support from conservative students.

Domestic politics: On the economy, he believes in state control, focusing on direct assistance to small-scale cooperative businesses that are, in theory, supposed to earn quick returns and reduce unemployment. He pumped Irans oil profits into these businesses, and many believe that the result has been inflation and high unemployment (the president counters that his economic polices are based on a long-term vision that has yet to pay dividends).

Ahmadinejad has a self-perpetuating reputation for being tough on corruption. From the start of his presidency he believed in publicly naming corrupt officials and even did so in a recent televised debate, making allegations against the sons of former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and a deputy of former President Mohammed Khatami.

The president calls himself a true believer in the principles and values of the Islamic revolution and an ally of the poor. On women's rights, he argues that Iranian women have improved their position during his tenure as president. But his opponents accuse him of increasing constraints by sending the religious police onto the streets to enforce the wearing of headscarves and decreasing the number of women in government jobs.

Foreign policy: Ahmadinejads foreign policy has been consistently radical at both the regional and global levels; but, if you listen to him, this radicalism has restored Irans stature in the eyes of the world to a level befitting its actual power and influence. Under Ahmadinejads tenure, Iran successfully launched an independent uranium enrichment process, resisted economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, and finally forced the United States to propose direct talks on Irans nuclear enrichment program. He recently stressed that Iran will not negotiate with the United States on suspending enrichment, but that it would be willing to discuss fighting terrorism and resolving regional crises together.

Ahmadinejad has also courted international controversy through his repeated public questioning of the history of the Holocaust. He justifies this policy as a calculated ploy to highlight the human rights failings of Western countries, who for years have criticized Irans human rights practices.
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Mir Hossein Mousavi

Credentials: An architect by training, he was one of Ayatollah Khomeinis favorite acolytes during the Iranian revolution and served as foreign minister and then prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war.


Power base: Returning to active politics after 20 years, Mousavi argues that the country is straying from the 1979 revolutions original principles of unity and equality. He says that Ahmadinejads rule has divided Iranian society along class and cultural lines. Moderate clerics support him and he has followers among intellectuals, academics, students (especially women), artists, and the urban middle and upper classes. Because of his revolutionary background, many working-class people trust him to uphold Islamic principles.

Domestic politics: Although his opponents focus on earlier support for state planning and a centralized economic agenda, in his presidential campaign Mousavi has stressed that he will follow market-friendly policies and privatization. He has promised to reduce the role of the government in cultural and social activities. He promises to ease restrictions on the press and restrict the authority of the religious police to accost citizens on the street.

Mousavi, like both of the other opposition candidates, vows to promote womens rights. By giving a central role to womens rights campaigners like his wife Zahra Rahnavard (who has been called Irans Michelle Obama for her popularity, intellect, and campaign skills), and Faezeh Hashemi (former MP and daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani) in his campaign, Mousavi has attracted female voters.

Foreign policy: Mousavis foreign policy would likely be a return to that of former President Mohammed Khatamis. In his televised debate, he promised to avoid confrontational gestures (like casting doubt on the Holocaust) and pipe dreams (such as becoming a global power) and focus on improving relations with Irans region as well as global superpowers.

On the nuclear issue, he supports Irans right to enrich uranium for peaceful uses and says he would be willing to negotiate with the international community to avoid the weaponization of Irans nuclear program. He is not against rapprochement with the United States but maintains that the Americans must make the first move.

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Mehdi Karroubi

Credentials: Cleric and former speaker of the parliament

Power base: Positioning himself as a kind of Iranian Obama, self-described reformer Karroubi has made change his main campaign theme. He enjoys some backing from moderate clerics, but draws most of his support from technocratic professionals, university students, and intellectuals. His well-known supporters include Gholamhossien Karrbaschi, the former mayor of Tehran who was sentenced and jailed during the Khatami years, as well as Mohammed Ali Najafi, who was a minister in Khatamis administration. A number of well-known journalists have also thrown their support behind him.

Domestic politics: Karroubi believes in a market economy and a vigorous private sector. He has pledged to distribute $70 per month out of Irans oil income to every Iranian. He has distanced himself from Khatami with his promise to keep the reform movement from being radicalized again. Khatamis aggressive push to revamp Irans election laws alienated conservative hard-liners and made it nearly impossible to accomplish any other meaningful reforms. Karroubi aims to avoid a similar scenario with a more moderate and balanced approach.

Karroubi has signaled that female politicians will have a prominent place in his government, promising to name Jamileh Kadivar, a former MP and womens rights activist, as one of his cabinet members.

Foreign policy: The three aspects of the Islamic republics identity -- Iranianness, Republicanism, and Islamism make up the centerpiece of Karroubis foreign-policy philosophy. In particular, he argues that Ahmadinejads preoccupation with Middle Eastern politics and frequent visits to other countries in the region have diminished the governments Iranianness.

In criticizing Ahmadinejads confrontational foreign policy, Karroubi argues that the president of Iran should avoid making inflammatory statements in international settings that bring the wrong kind of attention on Iran. On the nuclear issue, he has deferred, saying that he would follow the wishes of the supreme leader, whatever they may be.
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Mohsen Rezai

Credentials: Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, an advisory group that reports to the Supreme Leader himself. He has a distinguished record as a former commander in the Revolutionary Guard and earned a Ph.D. in economics after the Iran-Iraq war.

Power base: Rezais support comes mainly from conservatives who have lost faith in Ahmadinejad. Rezai has followers among Revolutionary Guard troops, conservative clerics, and students. Despite his military background, his campaign has focused on how he would fix the economic damage done by Ahmadinejads policies.

Domestic politics: As secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, Razaee played a role in drafting Irans 20-Year plan, a wide-ranging strategy to make Iran the top Southwest Asian country economically, technologically, and culturally by 2025. This goal is a frequent theme in his speeches. Rezai believes in privatizing Irans state economy at a much faster pace. He has proposed the creation of an oil fund to invest in infrastructure projects and social programs rather than handing out oil money in cash as Karroubi proposes. As for womens rights, he has promised to pick a female foreign minister.

Foreign policy: Regionalism is the focus of Rezais potential foreign policy. For years he has been advancing the idea that Iran should act as the economic and political leader of Southwest Asia.

On the nuclear issue, he is the only candidate to accept the idea of enriching uranium on Irans soil as a multinational venture with the cooperation of the United States. He has expressed optimism about Obamas promises of change, but unlike President Ahmadinejad, he believes that the U.S. military threat still exists and should be taken seriously.