Q&A: Iran’s never-was presidential candidate

Why would an Iranian expatriate with a comfortable life in New Jersey want to be the president of Iran?

Hooshang Amirahamdi
Hooshang Amirahmadi, 64, is an Iranian expatriate in US running for Iran's presidency [Al Jazeera]

Even lifelong insiders can tell you that surviving political life in Iran is brutal. If someone with the clout of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – wealthy and the right-hand man of the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – is struggling, what makes a guy like Hooshang Amirahmadi think he has a shot at the office of the presidency?

For one thing, the Rutgers University public policy professor left Iran in 1975. He’s not affiliated with any of the parties or power players, but by his Iranian constitutional rights, Amirahmadi, 64, can run for office. Even as an expatriate.

Al Jazeera had a few questions for the presidential hopeful, who has a 80-page platform, published in both English and Farsi:

Al Jazeera:  The term “quixotic” is often used to describe your quest for the presidency. How do you feel about that?

Hooshang Amirahmadi: I think my campaign has been very serious. We’ve had the only real campaign with platform … This is a novel campaign in the sense that for the first time ever, an expatriate has organised a campaign outside the country trying to become president in the homeland. It is also novel that we are the only campaign to the people, to social media and to the international media. We’re breaking a lot of the conventional processes about campaigning in Iran. I feel very good about this. Whether I become president or not, is really beside the point, because my purpose was to create a campaign process and a whole new political culture to create a better Iran.

AJ: Do you think the process of being vetted by the Council of Guardians is fair?

HA: No. And that is really why I ran this campaign. The Iranian people will have less than 20 days to choose a president, some of whom [the candidates] had not declared their intentions to run until last week, when they registered. And now, they will have 20 days to tell the Iranian people who they are … They will not have the time to introduce themselves to the Iranian people properly, so that the Iranian people will have an informed election process.

AJ:  Do you think you have a shot of making the list?

HA: I will continue this campaign regardless of what the Council of Guardians decides – not as a protest campaign, but as a campaign for a better Iran. The Iranian people have a right to decide who they want. I don’t think the Guardian Council should be deciding, but that’s unfortunately how things are … But I’m not planning on giving up. So you can assume that Hooshang Amirahmadi will stay in the campaign. Whatever happens, I will be there for the next four years.

AJ:  Speaking of being there – playing devil’s advocate – if you want to affect change, why not move back to Iran and run for a lower office? 

HA: First off, I have a plan to return. I’m restructuring my life to move there on a more permanent basis … Second, the people who have been in Iran for 40 years and are running for presidency, you know, they have been part of all the problems that have been created in the country for the past 30-some years. Thank God, because I wasn’t there, I wasn’t part of this problem.

AJ:  Part of your platform is to solve the nuclear issue by “reassuring the US” that its programme is of a civilian nature. How, after more than 30 years of acrimony and paranoia, do you plan on doing that?

HA: The question is: Why does this problem exist? The bottom line I believe is lack of trust between the two countries. I, Hooshang Amirahmadi, have been heavily and actively involved in US-Iran relations for over 27 years … I know every player, I know every issue, I know every concern. To solve the issue, the first and most important issue is to build trust between the two countries. And also between Iran and Israel and Arab neighbours … Iran, as per the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] has the right to civilian nuclear technology, but it has that right within obligations that it has made to the safeguard agreement to that treaty. The most important part is transparency, and if I’m president, I can easily establish that trust. Everything would be transparent, from A to Z.

Addendum: The list came out. Amirahmadi was not among the eight men who made the cut.

AJ: So. The list of candidates has been released…

HA: The big names aren’t on it. That’s the bottom line. There were only three big names in this election and all three of us  [including Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei] are not on it … I will not appeal. Nobody has any recourse here – it’s finished, it’s final. It’s finished. The system is taken an extremely cautious approach to this election. As the leader of the Islamic Republic has said over and over again, he considers this to be a dangerous turn he needs to pass. The idea is that this election should have absolutely no surprises, it should not bring lots of people to the streets, it should not create any degree of uncertainty … I wasn’t very sure that I’d be accepted. I mean, honestly, this issue of the Iranian election has become a very cheap process, because everybody looks for the results, nobody looks at the process … it’s very unfortunate that that political culture is so bankrupt. I didn’t care if I became president. I wanted to modernise the process.

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Source: Al Jazeera