As we know the Islamic Republic often applies the death penalty, detains political opponents, uses torture when it suits. Human rights are violated, as Gary Sick notes in his latest blog, “Gary’s choice”, 13 June, Iran’s elections – the human rights dimension. Women’s rights have often been flouted. And the political system is boxed in by a constitution which debars “non-conformist” candidates from standing for election.
Even so, Iranian women have gained since 1979 (mainly through the eradication of illiteracy) and there has been progress in the struggle against poverty, access to potable water and to mains electricity. But let’s focus on the presidential system. Astonishingly, Iran is the only country in the region (apart from Lebanon and Palestine) where the outcome of elections is not known in advance. In Egypt and Algeria, for example, the sole question is whether the president will obtain more than 90% of votes cast…
As Reuters reported on the evening of 12 June, there was a huge turnout in Iran. According to the official results announced on the morning of 13 June, Ahmadinejad gained two thirds of the votes and his opponent Mousavi one third. But this result is contested and the situation in Iran is tense.
As Mohsen M Milani, professor and chair at the department of government and international affairs, University of South Florida, pointed out in a 10 June interview published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Iranian Presidents Have a Critical Role in Policymaking, contrary to many people think, the Iranian president is an important figure, even if he’s less powerful than the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Observers noted that the presidential electoral campaign had been very lively, as Scott Peterson described in the Christian Science Monitor on 10 June, Once apathetic, young Iranians now say they’ll vote.
Hussein Mousavi was the most credible opposition candidate to Ahmadinejad, and on 10 June the TehranBureau website listed his election manifesto The Mousavi agenda.
Televised debates between the main candidates had enthralled viewers (some speeches are available with English subtitles on PressTV archive. The second debate between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, early in June, was watched by more than 40 million people. As the Los Angeles Times’s Tehran correspondent, Borzou Daragahi, reported on 4 June, Iranian president, rival spar in debate:
“Mousavi, struggling with his words during the beginning of the debate, hammered hard at Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy, accusing him of needlessly alienating other countries. He mocked what he described as Ahmadinejad’s erratic behaviour during several crises and trips abroad and repeatedly criticized Ahmadinejad for questioning the existence of the Holocaust, which he said hurt Iran’s national interests and unified the world behind Israel, Tehran’s rival,” Daragahi wrote.
As for the incumbent, “Ahmadinejad painted Mousavi as part of a cabal that includes Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential ayatollah and former president, and is dedicated to defeating him to secure vested interests. He named names, accusing several key political figures and their families of corruption and hinting at evidence showing Mousavi’s alleged wrongdoings.”
Such an attack on Rafsanjani, one of the country’s most powerful figures, is unprecedented. During the 2005 presidential campaign Ahmadinejad put himself forward as the candidate of social justice and the enemy of the mafia operators who had grabbed the country’s resources. He won after making many promises, some of which he has been able to keep because of high price of oil on the world market, but he has enjoyed no success in breaking the mafia rings (See Ramine Motamed-Nejad “Iran: money and the mullahs”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, June 2009). Economic and social issues were the main reason for the reformers’ defeat in 2005 and for Ahmadinejad’s victory. They will play a central role in the outcomes of this poll.
“Is the Rafsanjani aristocracy establishment supposed to perpetuate itself?” Ahmadinejad asked during the debate. Don’t hold your breath for the reply. In an open letter to the Supreme Leader, Rafsanjani protested against such attacks on him, as Muhammad Sahimi reported on 9 June for the TehranBureau website Rafsanjani’s Letter to the Supreme Leader :
“Following the presidential debates between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his reformist foes, Messrs Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, during which the president literally put the entire system of the Islamic Republic under question — he accused many national leaders and powerful politicians of nepotism and corruption, and claimed that since the 1979 Revolution only his administration has done extensive work for the nation (hence, indirectly attacking even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was elected the president for two terms in the 1980s) — he was condemned by people across the political spectrum…
“In an unprecedented letter today to Ayatollah Khamenei, Mr Rafsanjani struck back at the president. The tone and clarity of the letter, especially for a politician who has always worked behind the scenes, were astounding. The letter starts:
“Unfortunately, the untrue and irresponsible statements of Mr. Ahmadinejad during his debate with Mousavi, the pre-debate statements [by him] and the events afterwards remind us of what the hypocrites [a reference to Mojahedin Khalgh Iran, an armed opposition group in exile] and counterrevolutionary groups said and did in the first few years after the Revolution, as well as the accusations during the 2005 [presidential] elections, the elections for the 6th Majles [during which Mr. Rafsanjani was strongly attacked by the reformists], and the nonsense that Paalizdaar propgated [a reference to Mr. Abbas Paalizdaar, who made numerous accusations similar to the President’s a few months ago in a speech], who has been convicted in the court of law. Since some of the [same] allegations had already been printed in the government-controlled media and had been repeated in the [president’s] speech in the holy [city of] Mashhad [a large city in northeastern Iran], the claim that he might have been influenced by the debate’s atmosphere and the attacks were unplanned is not acceptable. This is apparently an attempt to distract people’s attention from the many documented reports by the Government Accounting Office that $1 billion is missing [a reference to various reports that the GAO cannot account for $1 billion in the state budget], and that thousands of other unlawful acts have been committed with respect to the misuse of the national budget [approved by the Majles]; or it could be that he [the president] feels that his main competitor [Mr Mousavi] is a hero of a quarter of century of the Islamic Revolution [and, therefore, feeling vulnerable].
“The letter then asks if such unlawful acts are not stopped, and if the president, who has taken the oath of office to respect the law, can break the laws of the land without being persecuted, how can the nation consider itself the followers of the holy Islamic system of governance?
“The letter ends by asking Ayatollah Khamenei to ensure that the upcoming voting process will be devoid of any fraud.
“More than anything else, the letter reveals the deep fissures in the ruling establishment that have been created by Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The letter in some way may also lessen the possibility of fraud in the Friday voting. In the 1997 elections that resulted in a landslide victory for Mr Mohammad Khatami, Mr Rafsanjani warned the nation a few days before voting about the possibility of fraud. Many believe that Mr Rafsanjani’s warning at that time was the prime reason why the conservatives could not resort to voting fraud, as they were terrified by a revolt by the people.”
If we are to believe the reactions of Mousavi and his supporters the night that the results were announced, voting fraud was substantial all the same.
Rafsanjani’s position was supported by 14 clerics from the holy city of Qom according to Reuters on 9 June, Iranian cleric slams Ahmadinejad “fabrications”.
Moreover unconfirmed sources indicated that, in response to this open letter, the Supreme Leader had nominated Akbar Nategh Nouri, a conservative cleric critical of Ahmadinejad, to check for election irregularities in TeheranBureau’s 10 June Reaction to Rafsanjani’s Letter by Muhammad Sahimi.
A less optimistic, even alarmist, interpretation came from the Kamal Yaser Nassin of the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network (ISN) on 11 June, Iran : Ahmadinejad’s Palace Coup.
“First, according to usually reliable sources, security forces are preparing for a massive crackdown on the protestors, once the winner of the contest is announced.
“Second, in a highly symbolic departure from past norms, the office of the Supreme Leader has issued an official disclaimer about alleged promises made to Hashemi Rafsanjani by Ayatollah Khamenei. The Supreme Leader also warned today against “ill-wishers” who spread malicious rumours and are lodged everywhere, adding “they may be found everywhere, in all agencies and groups.” Experts believe that since the Supreme Leader is not known as someone to bank on the losing side, this can be interpreted, with moderate confidence, as a sign that Mahmood Ahmadinejad is considered as the next president of the Islamic Republic.”
Concerning the nuclear issue, Rasool Nafisi, wrote on Radio FreeEurope’s website on 12 June, In Iran, The Election Is Being Televised :
“Despite some pretty fierce duels, the candidates have been careful not to cross any of the regime’s ‘red lines.’ All candidates have endorsed the country’s uranium-enrichment programme, and none has argued that continuing this policy in the face of UN resolutions and international sanctions is shaking the foundations of the economy or society. None of the candidates has asserted that the 25% inflation rate is at least partly due to the impact of sanctions.”
Washington had shown a deal of circumspection during this election campaign, fearing that favouring one candidate could backfire. In the Foreign Policy website of 10 June As Iran votes, all quiet on the western front , Luara Rozen spelt it out:
“We are committed to direct diplomacy with whatever government emerges,” a US official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The administration is “being tight-lipped on this one,” he acknowledged, noting that some planned interviews on the issue had been shut down out of apparent sensitivity to concerns that Iranian hard-liners could portray them as evidence of US meddling, a sensitive issue in Iran.
For the American and Israeli right – as Scott Harrop pointed out in Helena Cobban’s Just World News blog of 12 June, “Israel’s horse in Iran’s Race” – Ahmadinejad was the preferred candidate!
Elsewhere an influential American Democratic Senator pronounced, in a 10 June interview with the Financial Times’s Daniel Dombey, US senator opens Iran nuclear debate, that Iran had the right to enrich its own uranium and that arguments to the contrary made by the Bush administration were “ridiculous”.
And what next?
Ref: Le MOnde