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Presidential Elections Set for August

February 25, 1989

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Iran will hold presidential elections in August, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported Saturday. The vote could be a key test between so-called pragmatists and their hard-line opponents in the Islamic republic.

It will be the fifth presidential election since the republic was proclaimed in 1979.

Hardliners, who now appear to be backed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, are battling the so-called pragmatists, who seek liberalization in Iran and closer links with the West.

Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi announced the election in an interview published Saturday in Tehran’s Kayhan daily, the news agency said in a report monitored in Nicosia.

It quoted him as saying there will be polls for local and regional councils after the presidential ballot.

IRNA said the date of the election will be announced after coordination between the Interior Ministry and the Council of Guardians, a 12-member body that oversees legislation.

President Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s third president who has been in office since 1981, cannot run for a third four-year term under the revolutionary constitution.

Mohtashemi, a hardliner believed to have close links with Shiite Moslem extremists holding Western hostages in Lebanon, said he will not run.

But Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani, leader of the so-called pragmatists, indicated earlier this month he might be a candidate.

″I have not yet decided. But it seems that I will have to be a candidate,‴ he said in an interview with French television.

Khamenei, who has been allied with Rafsanjani, noted in an interview carried by Kayhan on Feb. 6: ″When someone looks at the Iranian stage, the focus will be Hashemi Rafsanjani. I don’t think there’s anyone else attracting one’s eyes.″

Former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan has said his small Iran Freedom Movement, Iran’s token opposition party which has been harassed by hardliners for eight years, will field a candidate if the political climate is ″appropriate.″

Rafsanjani and others have been trying to amend the December 1979 constitution to focus executive power in the presidency by dropping the post of prime minister.

They argue the emergence of several competing power centers has undermined Iran’s decision-making process and believe Iran needs a clearly defined system to tackle postwar reconstruction and end ideological divisions.

Executive authority has been concentrated on the premiership since the republic’s first president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, tried to widen his powers in 1980-81 before he was forced to flee into exile during a purge of liberals and left-wingers by revolutionary zealots.

Iran’s second president, Mohammad Ali Rajaie was assassinated in September 1981, along with Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar, in a terrorist bombing at Bahonar’s Tehran headquarters.

Rafsanjani, who also is acting commander-in-chief, was considered the most powerful figure after Khomeini, but it is not clear whether he and his allies have been weakened by Khomeini’s support for hardliners.

Some radicals fear that concentrating power in the presidency will transform Iran into an authoritarian state.

Update hourly