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Q&A

'We want a change,' Iran reformist says

Reza Norouzadeh is a top official in the presidential campaign of reformist former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi. He says the government of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has created a mess.

March 26, 2009|Ramin Mostaghim

TEHRAN — A moderate held Iran's presidency for eight years before the 2005 election of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and reformist ideas -- among them a belief in liberty, rule of law and government accountability -- remain lodged deep in the psyche of many Iranians.

Now reformists are attempting a comeback, with two from their ranks competing against Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election. One of those candidates is a former speaker of parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, who came in third in 2005. The Times recently spoke with Reza Norouzadeh, a top Karroubi campaign official.

Norouzadeh, a 55-year-old former lawmaker, said his candidate would argue that he can more responsibly manage Iran's oil and gas wealth than can Ahmadinejad, who many critics say squandered energy export windfalls on popular giveaways that spurred inflation without improving infrastructure or creating jobs.

But Norouzadeh also boasts of his man's revolutionary credentials, emphasizing loyalty to the ideals and values of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Is Ahmadinejad beatable?

If we did not regard him as beatable, we would not promote another candidate. We don't like the way Mr. Ahmadinejad is running the country, so we want a change.

Years ago, Mr. Karroubi uttered the slogan "change," based on a Koranic verse that says, "God does not change the destiny of people unless they themselves decide to change their own destiny." That was long before President Obama adopted "change" as his campaign slogan.

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Why is Karroubi running?

Mr. Karroubi is one of a handful of able politicians who played a very important role in the triumph of the revolution.

He badly wants to not allow the hard-earned revolution, achieved with the sacrifice of the blood of martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war, to deviate from its original ideals, so that people are not pessimistic toward the revolution.

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What issues will be important in the campaign?

In the last election [Karroubi] believed in making people shareholders in the system by granting giveaways of $50. But that is a bygone issue and lost cause now. Any candidate. . . , if he is elected, will inherit a country that was handled by a government which made a mess of socioeconomic and political structures.

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You mean whatever the Ahmadinejad government has done should be reversed?

I can say the main things it has done should be corrected. The most important ones were the disbanding of well-established and time-honored institutions such as the Budget, Planning and Management Organization and the Credit and Monetary Council.

The staff of these bodies became well versed and accurate in their jobs. Based on their estimates, we could have reached 8% annual growth and single-digit inflation. If we had followed the plan, we could reach our targets. Plus, any amount of oil revenue above $25 per barrel was supposed to be saved in the foreign exchange reserve fund.

But unfortunately this government did not save it. This government lacked the know-how and expertise of the cultivated people needed to run the economy. Our candidate for the presidency would establish these bodies and institutes and kiss the hands of laid-off experts and ask them to come back to their jobs.

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The official figures say that more than 46 million people are eligible to vote. How important is turnout?

High turnout is very important. We think that only 10% of the population always votes for the principlist [conservative] candidates. Another 15% of the eligible voters are politically oriented toward other factions. The rest, 75%, are the silent ones.

Who will the silent people vote for?

These are the potential voters who would be pro-reform if they are motivated by the candidates. They include the educated city dwellers and those from many other walks of life. Candidates and their campaigners should encourage them to vote.

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Do you think Mr. Karroubi can deliver a message palatable to the middle class and to urbanites?

Karroubi or any other candidate must have a defining slogan. [Ahmadinejad] came and said, "I will bring the oil money to your table." But Mr. Karroubi at this juncture will have this slogan: "We will give back the potential value of oil to its owners for this and coming generations."

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What are his prospects for victory?

He is trying to absorb and integrate all reform trends. He will not win simply with his own party, the National Trust party.

He's also campaigning in the provinces. Mr. Karroubi is in the arena to win, but that does not mean that we sit aside and success comes by itself. We are obliged, every one of us, to urge people to take part.

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Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.

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