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Iranians go to the polls tomorrow in a much anticipated presidential election, with the very real prospect of a victory for the reformists and a positive change for the nation, according to Melbourne middle east expert, Associate Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh.

Although positive about the prospect of change Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says it will be a close election, with the reformist camp divided between two candidates, risking a split in the reformist vote.

"The reformers have been mobilizing quite significantly, and they’ve been tapping into the energy of this younger generation of voters," he says.  "The fact that reformist candidate Mousavi has gained the endorsement of former President Khatami is encouraging.

"The population is ready for a change, and the changing international environment allows for that degree of optimism.  In the past Iran had always managed to point to American foreign policy, point to the US and its relations with Israel as a problem in the region.

"The Iranian Government has accused the US of being a bully in international affairs, and policies pursued by President George W Bush in a way justified that accusation.  With the change in Washington, with Obama in power, there has been a change of attitude, a change of mood, which does facilitate a change in Iran.  The hardliners can no longer point to the US as a bully, and try to ‘circle the wagons’."

Associate Professor Akbarzadeh says while the hardliners have been in power (about four years), Iran has effectively become a pariah state in the region, with President Ahmadinejad having mismanaged the economy and adopting a very confrontational posture toward the west, or the international community.

He says President Obama’s appeal to the people of Iran at Nowruz (Iranian new year) - in which he talked about their great civilization and his respect for their culture and contribution to peace in the region - were important and unprecedented gestures that effectively disarmed the hardliners.

"I think the people of Iran are responding to President Obama’s charm offensive, and appreciate there has been a genuine change in US policy," he says.

"President Obama is obviously concerned about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but by the same token he is putting that problem within the broader context of the middle east, he places that problem as one among many in the region, which I think is the right approach to regional politics."

More information

Associate Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh is Deputy Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies Australia, located at the University of Melbourne.  He has an active research interest in the politics of Central Asia, Islam, Muslims in Australia and the Middle East.  Contact: 61 3 8344 8895 /

More information:
Katherine Smith, Media Unit, University of Melbourne
8344 3845 / 0402 460 147 /