Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran and reported hard-liner, defeated alleged reformist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in yesterday’s run-off election. Marred by accusations of fraud, Ahmadinejad’s victory (a big surprise) is observed to "complicate" U.S.-Iranian relations — in the words of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Iranian Interior Ministry’s figures give Ahmadinejad nearly 62% of the vote and Rafsanjani 36%, with the official turnout of 60%. (The Post rates the figure at 47%, among what I see as the only paper in the mainstream to have it that low.)

The upset outcome has neutralized the opposition and greatly disappointed — if not enraged — Iranian bloggers. The president-elect, Ahmadinejad, pledged to make the so-called Islamic Republic an "'exemplary, advanced and powerful nation,'" according to the Times account. He ran as a populist to counter millionnaire Rafsanjani, though the latter’s supporters claimed that this was a facade: "Rafsanjani supporters ... say Ahmadinejad is a front for the conservative appointees at the top of Iran’s byzantine constitutional structure who have thwarted the reformist agenda" of outgoing president Mohammad Khatami, according to the Post's story.

The White House’s response to the vote was one of noted pessimism. Nonetheless, we are told that our regime will "stand by those who call for greater freedom for the Iranian people," spokeswoman Maria Tamburri said. BBC News 'diplomatic correspondent' Jonathan Marcus reports that President Bush "dismissed the election out of hand before a single vote was cast."

In other words, Ahmadinejad’s victory "means that religious conservatives now have a monopoly on power controlling all of the elected and appointed institutions that govern the country." It is a serious threat to the Iranian people, who may now face significant rollbacks on the reforms that outgoing moderate president Khatami made.

The concern the US is expressing is not unwarranted. Ahmadinejad "has long worked with some of this country’s most conservative institutions, from the Basij — the militia that often patrols the streets and enforces strict codes of dress and conduct — to the Revolutionary Guards," according to the Times. We read that Ahmadinejad’s "main support came from the most powerful institutions in the country."

Immediately after the results were disclosed by the Iranian regime, Rafsanjani "alleged that an illegal dirty tricks campaign had been mounted" against his campaign by the state, all of whose "'means ... were used in an organised and illegal way to intervene'" in the poll.

But had he won, the changes to Iran would likely have remained cosmetic. Although my knowledge on the subject is cursory, my understanding is that when the state has made its intention clear to remove all serious reformers from running (and all female candidates), you can suspect a practically meaningless reshuffling of the same cards. What's worse is that, according to BBC correspondent Frances Harrison in Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s "victory now puts all the organs of state in the hands of the hardliners."

In other words, the Iranian regime is seen now to be hastening its own collapse by consolidating power in the hands of the old clerical elite, who will soon find themselves wholly outmoded by a society (50% of which is under the age of 25) that is quickly becoming modern and interconnected. A key movement is led by bloggers, such as those who run Iran Scan, the Brooding Persian, and the people at openDemocracy, among whom is 'former regime loyalist turned vocal critic' Mohsen Sazegara, who writes that these bloggers are of the 'third generation' of modern Iranians: they are the product of a rapidly growing, urbanized and literate population, one that has begun to use the Internet to express dissent against a geriatric ruling class. "A new paradigm is emerging," Sazegara writes.

BBC News reports that the Persi-blogosphere’s reaction has been "a mixture of shock, anger, despair, cynicism and irony." Iran’s blogger community has created "a popular forum for dissent," one that for "the first time ... [has] had the chance to be involved in a presidential election campaign."

Exclaimed 'Mr Behi' on Iran Scan, "It Happened! What we were all afraid of. Look who is leaving, Khatami, the intellectual that we were proud of, and see who is coming, a hard line conservative, who makes it humiliating to be Iranian." If I may, I’m sure many Americans felt a similar sentiment when President Bush was elected last November.

Although the regime’s Guardian Council officially "dismissed allegations of election fraud," much to that point has been cited. For instance, "some 300 complaints of electoral violations in Tehran alone" were reported, and British foreign secretary Jack Straw cited "'serious deficiencies' in the election". Nonetheless, aside from claims of fraud and the apparent absence of Western observers, I see a tremendous amount of hope in the grassroots groundswell rising beneath the Iranian ruling elite. It is a great democratic achievement. The election, unfortunately, does not appear so.


justdestinee said...

You are very knowlegable about the world around you. I'm astonished. May I ask how old you are? Thanks for answering my question about Kabbalah, although I must say I still don't have a strong grasp on their beliefs.

Alex said...

I've never given (or hinted at) my age before, so I'll slyly say that my age is the same as yours.

And thanks for your comment. I appreciate knowing that people actually look at my blog.

Again thanks.