Iranian reformists are quite aware of the fact that pushing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of power would not be an easy task as the president is not only backed by several highly influential ultraconservative clergy bodies but also by the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.
The reformists therefore hope to gain once again the silent majority whose votes earned them in 1997 a landslide victory in the presidential elections for their top candidate and political guru Mohammad Khatami.
"What we are after are those 11.5 million people who did not go to the polls last time. We are optimistic to get those votes," said Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, former vice-president and current spokesman for Khatami on Thursday. Khatami was visiting the country's fourth largest city, Tabriz in western Iran.
During the 2000 parliamentary and the 2005 presidential elections, almost 40 per cent of the people, mainly in big cities and especially in the capital Tehran, refused to attend the elections in protest against the failure to implement enough reforms.
Reformists consider these votes essential to break the current legislative majority of the pro-Ahmadinejad party of Abadgaran (Development Builders) in the March 14 parliamentary elections.
"The most important thing is that everybody goes to the polls. The people's voice should once again become the only criterion for forming the country's political system," Khatami said during an election campaign in Tabriz, capital of the East Azerbaijan province.
After more than a two year absence, the 64-year-old Khatami has returned to Iran's politics as leader of the reformist coalition group aiming to put an end to the pro-Ahmadinejad wing's domination in parliament.
Observers, however, consider the backing for Ahmadinejad and his ultraconservative faction as still very strong in the provinces, especially deprived areas, leaving little chance for the reformists to prevail.
But in the big cities, especially the politically important Tehran constituency, reformists might have a chance to steal strategic votes from the pro-Ahmadinejad wing.
During his election trip to Tabriz, Khatami refrained from directly referring to Ahmadinejad but told students in the city's Aqdami sports hall that the Islamophobia wave in the West might link Iran to "Talibanism," a reference to the ultra-conservative militants who once ruled in Afghanistan.
Khatami is currently only coordinating the election campaign for the reformist coalition which also includes the Karozaran Sazandegi (Servants for Reconstruction) party headed by influential ex- president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Khatami's engagement in Tabriz and scheduled trips all over Iran, however, strongly indicate that there is more to it than just aiding the reformists in the parliamentary elections - some believe his ultimate plan is to challenge Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential elections.
The students in Tabriz welcomed him with the slogan "Long live Khatami, the future president of Iran" and voiced their full support for him in case of his nomination.
"What we desperately need right now is getting back our lost dignity as a nation again. This is what we had during his presidential tenure and this is what we could have again," said Karim Abedi, the head of the reformist coalition in Tabriz.
TAGS: Middle-East IranIran elections