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The level of debate in the run-up to Friday's presidential poll has surprised even the hard-line president.
“Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust never took place […] only serves to antagonize the west,” he said in an interview with Press TV.
He added that there were many other urgent issues facing the country and that leaders needed to deal with these rather than dwell on issues with the potential to stir up hatred.
Meantime, Mohsen Rezaie, a former member of the Revolutionary Guard considered to be a moderate conservative, announced on his website that he was running “to save the country from destruction,” a direct reference to Ahmadinejad’s failures.
Movement of the people
This year also marks a different kind of public involvement in the political scene. After the revolution, a large proportion of the population felt that the election results are not a reflection of their opinion.
Mohammad Khatami provided a glimmer of hope when he ran for president the first time that change was on the way, but in his eight years no substantive political shift seemed imminent.
Khatami had run on a platform of liberalization and reform, and during his two terms as president, he advocated free expression, tolerance and civil society, and diplomatic relations with other states including the EU. But his reformist policies repeated clashes with the hardline Islamists in the Iranian government and powerful governmental organizations like the Guardian Council.
Limited presidential terms blocked Khatami from contesting the 2005 election, and a low voter turnout — mainly through apathy — is one of the reasons Ahmadinejad prevailed.
But a bigger turnout is expected this year: Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent women’s right activist and lawyer talks of “election hyper energy” in Iran right now.
“We are seeing much more freshness in the campaigns than we ever expected,” she said. “Watching and hearing all that is happening, one cannot remain silent to what is going on.”
Ahmad Sarvi, a supporter of Mousavi, said that since the Ahmadinejad and Mousavi debate, supporters of both sides had turned to streets to challenge each other.