Iran’s top reformist election candidate hits campaign trail

Iranian former vice-president Mohammad Reza Aref and his wife Hamideh Moravvej Farshi attend a reformist campaign for upcoming parliamentary election, in Tehran February 18, 2016.

Iranian former vice-president Mohammad Reza Aref and his wife Hamideh Moravvej Farshi attend a reformist campaign for upcoming parliamentary election, in Tehran February 18, 2016.

Iran’s most prominent reformist candidate said Tuesday that should his camp win in the parliamentary elections later this week, his bloc will work on the country’s economic problems by creating more job opportunities through attracting both domestic and foreign investors.

Mohammad Reza Aref upped the ante on his campaign trail, mingling with Tehran residents during a subway ride in the Iranian capital – a novel initiative by the reformists seeking to win more voters’ hearts and minds.

“Creating job opportunities is our priority,” Aref told The Associated Press during the subway ride. “We are focused on solving the economic problems of the people.”

Aref, who served as vice-president under reformist Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 until 2005, said that once in parliament, he would use that experience and that he believes an eight percent economic growth is possible through “adding to efficacy of the economy and attracting investors,” both foreign and domestic.

On Sunday, Khatami urged his followers to vote for the reformist and moderate camp, which has picked “Hope” as its campaign slogan.

“As participation of eligible voters becomes higher, the result will be closer to the demands of the people,” Khatami said in a video message. In the past, reformists have won more seats when there was a higher turnout.

Khatami, popular among young people and women, said that despite the barring of many reformist, “there are still enough deserving candidates who are capable to solve the people’s problems” if they will get a seat in parliament.

Such lawmakers can help moderate President Hassan Rouhani fulfill his election promise of creating a “more open political, cultural and economic environment” in Iran, Khatami also said.

In the downtown Tehran metro line, Aref mingled with residents riding the subway and met ordinary shoppers at the city’s man bazaar.

Many came up to him, appealing for a solution to the country’s unemployment, which official figures say is at 10 percent – though critics claim it is much higher among young people. According to government statistics, inflation stands at 13 percent.

“I am 35 years old and still jobless,” one metro passenger, Mohammad Heidari, shouted above the noise of the train at Bazaar station. He said he recently moved to Tehran from a poor area in western Iran in hopes of finding a better future. “Think about this, Mr. Aref.”

Another passenger criticized Aref’s bloc for allegedly lacking more prominent figures on its list.

In a parallel event Tuesday, prominent hard-line lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, who is running for re-election, also promised to focus on solving economic problems such as unemployment.

Speaking to a gathering of hundreds of hard-liners at a major mosque in downtown Tehran, he said hard-liners in parliament will “work in a way that will rid our economy of dependency on foreigners” – a reference to the difficulties Iranians endured under international sanctions.

Reformists hope to do well in Friday’s elections, boosted by public enthusiasm for the recently implemented Iranian nuclear deal with world powers and the lifting of the sanctions – though the country is still feeling the effects of years of the international measures.

In the current, conservative-dominated 290-seat chamber, there are about 30 reformists while hard-liners have 60 lawmakers. The rest are conservatives.

In absence of real political parties in Iran, the affiliation of half of the 6,200 candidates running in the elections cannot be determined. Reformists and moderates say they have some 200 candidates across the country; the rest are divided between conservatives and hard-liners. Analysis suggests some 10 percent of the candidates are pro-reform and moderate.

Many reformists are believed to have been disqualified from running during the candidate vetting process. In Tehran, over 1000 candidates are competing for just 30 seats.


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