Thursday, February 12, 2009

Arab view of Iranian elecions

The following may be more significant than we think:
"The shadow of threat has been removed forever from over the head of the Iranian nation … I announce officially today that the Iranian nation is a real and genuine superpower."
"Superpower" usually means atomic power. Does it mean Ahmadinejad knows that Iran will soon have the bomb as well as a means of delivery?? That could be much more interesting new than Iranian elections.
Ami Isseroff
Between Khatami and Ahmadinejad
Al-Hayat     Manually Created     - 11/02/09//
In the speech he delivered yesterday at a closing ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reviewed his four-year tenure which he seeks to renew in June. He said, "The shadow of threat has been removed forever from over the head of the Iranian nation … I announce officially today that the Iranian nation is a real and genuine superpower." This is the foundation of his coming presidential campaign even though he has not announced his candidacy yet, leaving it for sources close to him to talk on his behalf.
Two days prior to this announcement, former President Khatami (1997-2005) decided to run for presidency. He ascribed his decision to "the historical tendency of the Iranian people to attain freedom, independence, and justice," which he pledged to realize if he wins in free and transparent elections.
As such, we are ahead of two visions for Iran. Yet, Ahmadinejad will not be the only conservative candidate; Speaker of the Iranian Shura Council and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, a key candidate whom Ahmadinejad defeated, has not given his final word yet. Likewise, Khatami will not be the only reformist candidate; Former Speaker Mehdi Karroubi has almost declared his candidacy, while Mir Hussein Mousawi is also likely to do so.
The first vision focuses on Iran's power (with consequent regional roles), while the second rests on freedom, justice, and independence (with it tipping the balance in favor of a domestic agenda). So are we ahead of an electoral campaign, the results of which reflect the Iranians' ability to choose between Iran "the superpower" and Iran the freedom and justice? This wager may perhaps renew interest in the Iranian elections. Were it not for Khatami's candidacy, the campaign would be boring, settled in favor of Ahmadinejad who is supported by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the military establishment.
But can Khatami win the elections? Will he succeed where he failed in his two previous terms?
In 1997, a wave of students, youths, and women brought Khatami to power. Until 2005, the president was unable to meet any of their demands. Instead, the students were repressed on their campuses by Hezbollah groups, the student military wing of the "Revolutionary Guard"- with the president failing to protect them. He had even repeatedly criticized their movement. Thus, the frustration that plagued this group of voters will presumably dampen their enthusiasm to vote for Khatami as they did twice earlier. 
Khatami's calculated openness to the West backfired at home. His openness was depicted as submission and carelessness for the national unity and Iranian dignity. In addition to his image as a reluctant domestically weak president who is unable to make decisive decisions, Khatami was portrayed as a president who jeopardized Iran's international and regional role. This was the case when the reformist had an influential voice in the Shura Council and Local Councils that are fully controlled by the conservatives and which can thwart any reformist project Khatami's government might draft if he wins.
But the roots of the president's impotency in Iran do not stem from the results of the elections, but rather lie in the constitutional nature of the regime whereby the religious establishment tightens its grip on the country, alongside the social and military establishment, which are all affiliated to the supreme leader, the constitutional source of all decisions. In order for the president to be powerful, he must represent these institutions, as the case is with Ahmadinejad today, despite his poor economic performance -  with inflation exceeding 30% and unemployment soaring high, up to 60% in some regions. While this outcome is consensually ascribed to the costly military programs, random investment in oil resources, and the inability to handle the economy's mechanisms, the western sanctions on the backdrop of Iran's nuclear program have also contributed to the crisis.
In a second possible tenure, Ahmadinejad will unlikely propose other visions. Thus, the wager of the presidential elections is only a caricature of democracy and pluralism, as noted by Larijani after Khatami announced his candidacy.


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