Iran's Mousavi Becomes Third Key Politician to Announce Bid Against Ahmadinejad

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TEHRAN, March 10 -- A former Iranian prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, announced his presidential candidacy Tuesday, becoming the third influential politician to challenge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in elections set for June 12.

Mousavi is a critic of Ahmadinejad's economic stewardship and a proponent of Iran's nuclear program. He is considered a problem-solver and is a strong backer of Iran's system of government, in which Shiite Muslim clerics oversee policies of elected officials. His critics say that he has been away from politics too long and that his economic views are too socialist.

Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989, serving under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was then president and is now Iran's supreme leader. Mousavi is admired for the way he managed the country during the Iran-Iraq war, which crippled the Iranian economy. The post of prime minister was abolished after Mousavi's term ended.

Former president Mohammad Khatami and former head of parliament Mehdi Karrubi have already announced their candidacies. They and Mousavi oppose the way Ahmadinejad's government has handled Iran's economy and accuse him of empowering only a small inner circle of confidants. Ahmadinejad, who denies these accusations, has yet to confirm officially that he will stand for reelection.

Mousavi dismissed suggestions from supporters of Ahmadinejad that certain media criticism of the government is unfair. "We can't have a serious election without an atmosphere of criticism, especially of the present government," Mousavi said in a statement released by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

He implicitly referred to recent reports by Iran's audit commission identifying irregularities in the government's financial practices. Ahmadinejad has denied such accusations and told a television interviewer in February that the commission had reached "wrong conclusions."

"Maybe those who are very impatient to carry out their good intentions think they can use any method, including widespread lawbreaking," Mousavi said in his statement. "I clearly state that this is a great danger and the continuation of these methods will result in incurable anarchy in the country's management system."

But he praised Iran's technological achievements: "The nuclear technology is one of the examples of the achievements of our youth."

Many analysts say the candidates might unite behind a single opponent to take on Ahmadinejad.

"When voting day comes, Mousavi and Khatami won't be candidates together," Abdullah Naseri, a Khatami aide, told the semi-official Mehr news agency Tuesday. "The candidates will reach a solution on this, but what the outcome will be, only they know."

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