Azadi stadium in Tehran can hold 100,000 people, but barely half the seats were filled when Iran’s president Ahmadinejad hosted a rally there on Thursday. The president, who will step down after elections in June, gave a rousing speech in support of his chosen successor, but by the end of the three-hour event only a handful of people were left in the audience. The FT reports on the comic scene:
Most of the roughly 60,000 people at the stadium, in western Tehran, had been bused in from other provinces. This was despite the fact that there were large placards around Tehran advertising the event.Those at the Azadi stadium, who had travelled overnight or slept in buses in the car park, were exhausted and hungry. “Lunch! Lunch!” they shouted when officials addressed the crowd.
In the end, Ahmadinejad’s chosen successor, Easfandiar Mashaei, his former chief of staff, didn’t even show up to address the empty stadium. Ahmadinejad was left almost alone, shouting “Long live Iran, long live justice, long live love and affection and long live the Iranian nation’s flag.”The fact that Ahmadinejad has little support left means Iran’s Supreme Leader may have close to a free hand in choosing his successor. Ahmadinejad is not a stable or sensible person, but in Iranian politics his emergence represented a kind of populism—an interesting blend of Iranian nationalism, economic populism and enthusiasm for Persian culture including aspects that were of dubious orthodoxy from the standpoint of strict Shia thought—that made the Supreme Leader uneasy.In the last election, Khamenei didn’t really have a personal candidate and was forced to back the A-jad. This time around, Khamenei looks to have a much freer hand, meaning that as the economic crisis and the international standoff over the nuclear program intensify, power concentrates in his hands. On the positive side that means Khamenei, if he were so inclined, is more able to make a permanent, uncontested compromise, but there are troubling signs that the Supreme Leader has been the hardest of hard liners on these issues all along.