Ex-Iran president strikes chord with the public

There was a time when Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani seemed to have it all.

Written by New York Times | Tehran | Published: May 19, 2013 3:32:02 am

There was a time when Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani seemed to have it all. A founder of the Islamic Revolution,he headed a family empire that owned the second biggest Iranian airline,Mahan,had a near monopoly on the lucrative pistachio trade and controlled the country’s largest private university,Azad.

But then things went wrong. Iranians,angered by his wealth,back-room dealings and supposed involvement in the killing of dissidents,nicknamed him “Akbar Shah”,after the old Persian rulers who sat on velvet cushions in lush courtyards. Political rivals,jealous of his grip on the economy,seized on his support for reformists and labeled him an “aristocrat”,a “capitalist” and a supporter of “American Islam”.

His political stock fell so low that in 2002 he could not even muster the votes to win a seat in Parliament. He suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election,and two of his children ended up in jail.

Now,from the fringes of Iran’s closed circle of power,Rafsanjani,79,is attempting a comeback,entering his name last Saturday for the June 14 presidential elections. Though once widely reviled,his reputation as an economic pragmatist and modernizer — by Iranian standards,anyway — seems to be hitting a responsive chord.

“He is the only one that can fix this mess,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour,a journalist who spent several months in jail for his ties to the opposition. “This man is an icon of our revolution. He owns the shop,so to speak. He will fix the economy.”

“We have no one with his qualities. He can make us rich again,” said trader Hasan Sarhangi.

If approved — by no means assured — Rafsanjani is likely to find himself walking a tightrope. Another hurdle is whether Guardian Council,an evaluating body whose 12 members are appointed by Khamenei,will even allow Rafsanjani to participate.

THOMAS ERDBRINK

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