"We will open all the locks which have been fastened upon people's lives during the past eight years," Rowhani said during a speech on 1 June in the north Tehran neighbourhood of Jamaran. "You, dear students and hero youth, are the ones who have come to restore the national economy and improve the people's living standards. We will bring back our country to the dignity of the past."
Rowhani, who may have already had a progressive bent due to his long-standing relationship with reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami, has been engaging in such talk in televised interviews and debates all week. The serene-looking cleric has thereby generated at least a faint spark in a reformist camp that has been moribund for some time.
Tuesday night, in a 30-minute documentary more biography than manifesto, he verged on crossing Iran's media "red lines" as he criticised the harassment of Iranian civilians by "plainclothes people" – a clear reference to the Basij militia – and the country's "securitised atmosphere". He also poured scorn on Ahmadinejad's record, though that is by now a million miles from any red line.
Elsewhere in the documentary, Rowhani, who is campaigning on the slogan Government of Proficiency and Hope, talked of "interaction with the world" and gender equality. "In my government, differences between women and men won't be tolerated," he said.
In an interview on state TV on 27 May that received little attention in the west, Rowhani, Iran's lead nuclear negotiator during Khatami's 1997-2005 administration, blamed the nezaam (ruling system) of the Islamic Republic for the failure to engage in direct talks with the US. "[Non-negotiation] was the decision and, thus, the US was set aside," he said. When asked directly if it was the US that had in fact taken the first step towards negotiation, Rowhani simply replied, "Yes." This contradicts the prevailing orthodoxy not only in the west, but the official line in Iran as well.The mere fact that one candidate is expressing such opinions is news in itself, though after the 2009 Presidential elections, the odds of his actually being certified winner seem remote.
Some other commentaries on the elections:
Barbara Slavin at Al-Monitor: "Iranian Activism Abroad Mirrors Low-Key Election Campaign,"
Farideh Farhi at LobeLog: "Should Iran's Election Really Be Discounted?" A response to Dennis Ross' somewhat deceptively titled piece in Foreign Affairs, "Don't Discount the Iranian Election."