Mir Hossein Mousavi has gained status since Khomeini endorsed his candidature [AFP]
A fever for change is sweeping through Iran’s Islamic Republic.
The tenth presidential election, held 30 years after the 1979 revolution, has spurred a renewed and highly-charged interest in politics not seen since the landslide win of reformist president Mohammad Khatami more than a decade ago.
Since then, millions of Iranians have viewed their government’s capacity for change with, at the very least, a cynical eye. Many gave the 2005 presidential election the cold shoulder and these “silent voters” unwittingly contributed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ascent to power.
|Iran election 2009|
Four years of Ahmadinejad’s bellicose foreign policy and savage mismanagement of the economy has roused those millions to drop their boycott on voting for fear of unintentionally aiding his re-election.
The body of supporters loyal to what is known as the “2 Khordaad” movement – named after the Iranian date of the Khatami vote, and largely made up of students and the social elite – has burst on the scene with a re-energised base.
Rebranding themselves as the “second 2 Khordaad”, these reformist supporters are rallying around Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man who has rocketed to idol status following Khatami’s endorsement of his candidacy.
Mousavi is an anomaly in the Islamic Republic’s polarised political landscape in that he defines himself as a hybrid “reformist-principlist”.
A favourite of Ayatollah Khomeini, he served as prime minister in the 1980s (the post was eliminated afterward) and is credited for his astute management of Iran’s embargo-crippled wartime economy of the time.
After Khomeini’s death in 1989, he effectively withdrew from politics and devoted himself to abstract painting.
However, following 20 years of political silence, Mousavi announced his bid for presidency, explaining he could “no longer stand to see… [Iran] moving toward dictatorship” under the hardline establishment epitomised by Ahmadinejad.
|Zahra Rahnavard could become Iran’s
first ‘First Lady’ with a role in public [AFP]
“I have entered the race because I feel Iran is endangered by the current administration,” Mousavi told an audience of 50 million in a recent televised debate.
Mir Hossein – his fans affectionately call him by his first name – is a soft-spoken, some would say mumbling, grey-bearded man with silver-rimmed glasses and a calm demeanor.
He exudes an aura of innocence, and that quality which Iranians yearn for most in a leader: sincerity.
Though he lacks the soaring oratory of Khatami, his tone conveys backbone. “I will deliver,” he seems to say. No small feat given the enormity of the pledges he has made: privacy rights, revision of discriminatory laws against women, removing the widely-hated morality police and allowing a free press.
Many pundits – notably on Voice of America’s Persian service which broadcasts via satellite into the majority of Iranian living rooms – dismiss such goals as empty slogans, or lofty idealism at best.
Yet Mousavi has already taken steps to back his words with action.
In an unprecedented move, Mousavi, the leading reformist contender, introduced his wife Zahra Rahnavard onto the campaign platform alongside him.
Rahnavard is an accomplished intellectual in her own right – a sculptor, author and chancellor of Tehran’s liberal arts-strong Al-Zahra University.
She will also be Iran’s first First Lady – in the public sense of the term – if her husband is elected.
Already, she is being touted as a national heroine, her face gazing out alongside Mousavi’s on posters and her name being chanted at rallies and demonstrations.
Furthermore, in perhaps one of the most radical statements he has made to date, Mousavi declared his belief in legal monogamy, in stark contrast to Islamic law which allows men four “permanent wives” and countless “temporary marriages”.
Bold, bald assertions like this are wooing disillusioned voters who believe this candidate will deliver on other pledges, notably on curing an economy plagued by extreme inflation, unemployment and sanctions.
|Maousavi’s supporters are trying to create a ‘green wave’ among the voters [AFP]|
Mousavi’s economic agenda is so far unclear, but one item he ardently champions is “e-government”, designed to cut waste and inefficiency across thousands of governmental organisations.
On the foreign policy front, he has stressed the need to rebuild Iran’s “damaged” image with the international community and to strengthen ties in the region.
Although the final word on matters such as nuclear détente and rapprochement with the United States rests with the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mousavi has signaled that he is not adverse to such possibilities.
Pro-reform Iranians who would like to see their government normalise relations with the US have another reason to look forward to what they hope will be their chosen candidate’s victory on June 12: the prospect of seeing, by 2012, President Mir Hossein Mousavi sitting around the table with his American counterpart, Barack Hussein Obama.
A shared middle name is not the only aspect of semblance between the two men.
Mousavi’s campaign is curiously Obamaesque. One slogan is ‘dolat-e omid’, or ‘government of hope’, echoed by his campaign colour of vivid green.
His supporters have mobilised massive grassroots forces to promote the “green wave” among voters.
“Mousavi’s campaign is curiously Obamaesque. One slogan is ‘dolat-e omid’, or ‘government of hope’.”
Donning green Lance Armstrong-style wristbands, t-shirts, scarves and other apparel, at times with playful touches like green eyeshadow and green glowsticks, young Mousaviites drive through the capital’s streets in cars plastered with his posters and bumper stickers – resulting in a highly-visible mobile campaign.
They are also taking advantage of new media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to spread their message and bolster their cause with downloadable brochures, slideshows and video clips.
Chain emailing and text messaging of satiric anti-Ahmadinejad jokes is another successful effort they have pioneered; it is not uncommon to receive up to 10 new quips a day.
Telemarketing, again, is a new technique never used in other Iranian campaigns.
It appears those who want Mr Mousavi in office have taken to heart his rallying cry: “Every Iranian, One Campaign”.
Volunteer campaigners work proactively and by independent means – raising money to print the thousands of posters that went up overnight across Tehran’s 22 districts, engaging in discussions with naysayers and passerbys on the street and planning eye-catching events such as the “human chain” of green-clad men and women who linked hands along the capital’s longest thoroughfare, Valiasr Avenue, earlier this week.
Not permitted the option of ads on state-run television and radio, this tech-savvy youth base has, instead, unleashed a creative street-and-cyberspace campaign that is gaining momentum day by day.
In the last days before Iranians go to the polls, it remains to be seen if the incumbent president will be able to match his main rival in terms of campaign strategy.
The will for change, however, is strong and loud – it won’t be surprising to see ‘Iran’s Obama’ fulfill his 22 Khordaad/June 12 promise of victory.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera editorial policy.