The period leading to the Iranian presidential elections is always exciting, and this time it will be no different.
According to a recent article in the Tehran based Baztab online, members of a parallel intelligence agency inside Iran have been arrested after being caught spying on Tehran Mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. The arrested group was collecting information about Ghalibaf's meetings and electioneering gatherings.
In an interesting twist to the story, the head of the counter intelligence agency that caught the group was later removed because he supplied the information to the press.
The report does not mention who were the people spying on Ghalibaf. However one can assume that the person who has the most to lose from Ghalibaf's participation in the elections is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He may feel safe about Ayatollah Khatami's participation, because he could assume that Ayatollah Khamenei, who is not usually in favor of reformists, may not allow him to win.
However Ghalibaf who is from within the conservative movement may pose a bigger danger. Unlike Ahmadinejad, he was a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards, and fought in the war for the entire eight years. This is in contrast to Ahmadinejad's one and half years on the front lines.
Furthermore, Ghalibaf is seen as more moderating force in terms of economic and foreign policy. He has openly spoken out against excessive spending and populist policies of the current government, while calling for a more moderate foreign policy and investment from abroad. This is music to the ears of many conservative supporters, and those who want to support Khatami, but believe that despite his good intentions, Khamenei will never let him win.
There are two other factors which boost Ghalibaf's chances.
One is Ali Larijani's decision not to participate. His participation may have led to cannibalization of votes between the two.
The other is election of Barack Obama. His calls for unconditional dialogue have been heard in Tehran. So have recommendations for him not to meet with Ahmadinejad.
It is very possible that the Supreme Leader may decide that Ahmadinejad's catastrophic economic performance and his foreign policy stance may have cost Iran too much. That his removal may be worth the price for the sake of internal stability, and the chance to reap the benefits of dialogue with the US.
Between all the candidates, Ghalibaf would be the best face saving choice. His election as a conservative candidate would allow Khamenei to choose a middle course which would satisfy conservatives at home and those wanting to approach a more moderate Iran. This is one possibility which should not be ignored.
Meir Javedanfar is a Middle East Analyst at Tel Aviv-based MEEPAS, www.meepas.com
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