Khatami quits run for Iran presidency
Mousavi seen as leading reformer
TEHRAN - Iran's most prominent reformer, former president Mohammed Khatami, pulled out of the race against the country's hard-line president yesterday, saying he didn't want to split the pro-reform vote in upcoming elections.
Khatami's entry into the race against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a month ago boosted the hopes of some who favor improving ties with the West and liberalizing Iran's conservative Islamic government.
But two other prominent reformers entered the race for the June 12 election after Khatami. One of them, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, is a former hard-liner who Khatami has said has a better chance of siphoning off conservatives' votes. With Khatami pulling out, Mousavi is now seen as the leading reformist candidate.
The other reformist candidate in the race, former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi, has repeatedly said he won't drop out regardless of who else is running, but his party was meeting yesterday to assess the situation.
"I'm pulling out of the election on the basis of a moral obligation and to avoid scattering the votes so that . . . change and improvement will be more easily achieved and with less cost," Khatami said in a statement.
Khatami praised Mousavi as having the necessary qualifications to bring change to the country and said, "he can potentially win people's votes and get elected provided we act with wisdom and realism."
Reformers believe they have a strong chance of unseating Ahmadinejad, who rose to power in 2005 but has lost popularity because of his handling of the country's faltering economy and other issues. But the maneuvers in the reformist camp reflect a debate over the best strategy for defeating the hard-liner.
Khatami called on Karroubi and Mousavi to avoid fracturing the reformist camp, advising them "to manage the scene with understanding so that . . . no rift or differences emerge."
Khatami, a liberal cleric who was president from 1997 to 2005, was the best known internationally among Iran's reformist politicians and is also popular at home, particularly among the young. But some reformists worried that his candidacy would galvanize the hard-line camp, which strongly dislikes Khatami because they believe he aims to fundamentally change the nature of Iran's Islamic state.
Mousavi, some believe, is better positioned to draw conservatives who have grown disenchanted with Ahmadinejad. The former prime minister, who announced his candidacy last week, is remembered well by many Iranians for managing the country during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, and has strong enough revolutionary credentials to appeal to Ahmadinejad's base.
Khatami said previously that he and Mousavi would not compete against each other. On Sunday, he acknowledged the advantages Mousavi holds in the race.
"Rest assured that Mousavi will recruit a remarkable percentage of votes from the other side."