There has been a lot of buzz about Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s recent announcement that he will be running against incumbent President Mahmood Ahmadinejahd in the up coming Presidential elections.  Many anticipate a fierce campaign with Khatamai taking up the banner of the reformist movement against Ahmadinejahd and his follow entrenched hardliners.  The Christian Science Monitor claims that “[t]he fight promises to be a clash of Iran’s political titans, between men representing opposite sides of Iran’s political and social chasm”.  The International Herald Tribune notes that “Khatami’s decision to run against Ahmadinejad could significantly shake up Iran’s politics, appealing to citizens disillusioned by the country’s failing economy and Ahmadinejad’s staunch anti-U.S. foreign policy”.

If I were an Iranian voter, however, I would not be particularly excited.  Both Ahmadinejahd and Khatami have experience in the role of President, meaning that voters can examine their records side by side and make a truly informed choice.  This choice leaves much to be desired.

Ahmadinejahd’s legacy is pretty clear.  He has alienated the international community with his fiery rhetoric, clearly mishandled Iran’s economy, and his term has been marked by the increased harassment of those who do not agree with hard line conservatives.  Ahmadinejahd has largely defined himself in opposition to George W. Bush and now that Bush has left office, he is starting to appear obsolete.  I find it difficult to believe that in the face of a global economic downturn and with the promise of a renewed relationship with the United States that the Iranian people will choose more of the same overblown rhetoric and financial fumbling.

Khatami’s presidency from 1997 to 2005 was indeed more moderate but in some ways equally dissatisfying.  While he was Iran’s first reformist president, his ability to create real change was severely limited by conservatives in the Guardian Council which often vetoed his bills.  He did enact a period of economic liberalization and of increased freedom of expression but many fellow reformists were disappointed with the limited nature of these reforms.  The ideological leader of the reformist movement, Abdolkarim Soroush, went so far as to attack Khatami for his inaction, writing, “your failure to keep the vote and your wasting of opportunities put an end to it and disappointed the nation”.  Perhaps it is unfair to attack Khatami for his lack of action when his power was so clearly limited, but one is forced to wonder what he thinks he could do differently if given a second chance.

If Khatami seriously expects to be granted another term he is going to need to prove to the Iranian people that this time he can do something differently; whether it is uniting the diverse factions of the reformist movement or devoting time and energy to drumming up grassroots support for reformist programs.  He will have to try extra hard to reach out to the thousands of young voters who were particularly disillusioned by the inaction of his last term and who represent a large percentage of the vote.  But with four months to go until the election we will have to wait to see how Khatami’s message will resonante with the Iranian people.