People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 30

July 26, 200

Iran Elections: After Shocks Persist

 

Yohanan Chemarapally

 

 

EVEN a month after the decisive victory of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in the Iranian presidential polls, his opponents are refusing to concede defeat. The two defeated candidates, Mir Housein Mousavi and Mehdi Kharoubbi have refused to acknowledge the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in the June elections. Without producing any convincing evidence, they continue to insist that the elections were rigged. The third defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, had accepted the results in the last week of June. Though both Mousavi and Kharroubi have been urging their supporters to keep on protesting, the response from the street, since late June, has been lukewarm. But they have not completely given up.

 

The two leading personalities who have come out openly in their support, the former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmad Khatami, have both been continuing with their criticism of the June elections. Khatami in the third week of July demanded that a referendum be held so that the Iranian people can give their opinion about the legitimacy of the newly elected government. Rafsanjani while addressing students at Teheran University called on the government to clear the “doubt” about the elections among the “great section of our erudite and knowledgeable people”.

 

Rafsanjani chairs the influential Assembly of Experts which theoretically has the right to remove the Veleyat-I Faqih, the Spiritual leader ---Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Interestingly, during the Friday prayers addressed by Rafsanjani, those supporting the government shouted “Death to America” slogans. This was countered by anti-Ahmadenijad supporters with “Death to Russia” and “Death to China” slogans. Russia and China were the first two countries to welcome the re-election of Ahmadenijad.

 

DIVIDED

ESTABLISHMENT

Most observers of the Iranian scene have concluded that after the dramatic events of June, the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution is not as united as it was. For the first time, some important religious and political leaders have obliquely questioned the authority of the spiritual guide of the nation, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though the Guardian Council, which has the responsibility of monitoring the elections, had ruled the June elections as the “healthiest” held since the revolution, many prominent “reformist” politicians and even some ayatollahs have alleged that the spiritual leader was biased in favour of his “protégé” Ahmadenijad.

 

Rafsanjani had played a key role in the appointment of Ayatollah Khamenei as the supreme leader following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Ahmadenijad had angered Rafsanjani during the run-up to the elections when he accused him of propping up his rivals in the presidential elections. Ahmadenijad also publicly accused Rafsanjani’s family of amassing unaccounted wealth. When Ahmadenijad won his first presidential elections five years ago, there were dark murmurs about vote rigging even then. At that time, Ahmadenijad was relatively unknown but had come from behind to win the presidency, defeating among others, the venerable Rafsanjani.

 

But as the prominent Egyptian commentator, Mohammed Heikal pointed out in a television interview, all the candidates in the election were “children of the revolution”. Heikal said that he had no doubts about the victory of president Ahmadenijad. He went on to say that the political system in Iran was mature enough to resolve the current impasse. Mousavi had repeatedly said that the demonstrations are within the constitutional rights of Iranians. Most Iran watchers agree that the battle that was waged in June was one between two factions within the establishment.

 

FANTASIES OF

REGIME CHANGE

 

But the West, which has relentlessly caricaturised the Iranian president, had started fantasising about regime change in Iran. There was frenzied talk of a “green revolution” materialising overnight in Iran, similar to the colour revolutions in eastern and central Europe. The “twitter revolution” which almost overthrew the newly elected Left government in Moldova in March was sought to be replicated in Iran. Now that the storm has subsided, president Barack Obama is being urged by both conservatives and liberals in the US to freeze the putative diplomatic dealings with Iran. Obama is the first American president to admit his country’s role in the toppling of Iran’s first democratically elected government in 1953 and was seen to prefer a more conciliatory approach towards Teheran. This was evident in his Cairo speech. It was in Cairo that an American president for the first time had addressed the country by its official name---the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

However, after Obama’s statement “condemning” the Iranian government’s handling of the post-election protests and his praise for Mousavi, relations which had thawed slightly have once again frozen over. President Ahmadenijad asked for an apology from the American president for his remarks over the conduct of the elections. The Iranians have other reasons to be angry with Washington. The Obama administration is continuing with the destabilisation blueprint of the previous administration. USAID, which is under the US State Department, has earmarked $20 million this year “to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran”. 

 

Iranians have noticed that president Obama has not bothered to condemn the recent killing of hundreds of native Indians in Peru by security forces or done anything meaningful to restore democracy in Honduras, after the president there was ousted in a military coup.

 

According to the investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, the previous Bush administration had sought $400 million dollars to destabilise the clerical establishment. George W Bush had escalated covert operations against Iran in the last year of his Presidency. Reports in the American media also suggested that Washington was assisting armed guerrilla groups active among minority ethnic groups in Iran. In a November, 2006 article, Hersh wrote that the Penatagon had established “covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi tribesmen and had encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and south eastern Iran”.

 

PRO-POOR

PRESIDENT

 

From the outset, it was only the western media pundits who were predicting a victory for the “reformist” candidate, Mousavi. There was no doubt that he swept the polls in Northern Teheran and other affluent suburbs in various Iranian cities. But the majority of Iranians, who continue to be poor, obviously preferred to renew their trust in the incumbent president. His supporters credit him with reviving the basic values of the Islamic revolution, the most important of them being caring for the poor. The high price of oil during most of his first term in office helped his administration to plough funds into hitherto neglected areas of Iran.

 

Every week he visited remote rural outposts to have a first hand look into the problems faced by the poor peasantry. Ahmadenijad along with his ministers has visited each one of Iran’s 30 provinces twice during the last four years. He cut out the bureaucratic red tape to ensure that the development funds he sanctioned reached their destination. Another populist move was to distribute billions of dollars worth of “justice stocks”  (stocks in state run companies) to the poor. This was part of the government’s plan to build a more egalitarian society

 

Most of the pre-election opinion polls conducted since March showed that Ahmadenijad was a clear frontrunner. The only poll conducted by a western agency, on behalf of the BBC and the NBC, predicted a 89 per cent turnout for the election. The poll conducted by the independent Center of Public Opinion (CPO), which is backed by the Rockefeller Foundation, a few weeks before the elections revealed that Ahmadenijad had a nationwide advantage of two to one against his closest rival, Mousavi.

 

In the actual elections, the turnout was 85 per cent, with Ahmadenijad getting 66.2 per cent of the votes and Mousavi — 33.8 per cent. The western media had mainly covered the big rallies addressed by Mousavi in Teheran and other cities. Ahmadenijad had criss-crossed the country addressing hundreds of equally well attended rallies. In the 2005 presidential elections too, Ahmadenijad had got almost the same percentage of votes. His rival, Rafsanjani, had got 35 per cent of the votes.

 

Though the election process is not open to registered parties and is rigorously vetted by the clerical establishment, the Islamic Republic has a proud record of holding elections on schedule. Despite being subjected to war, terrorism and economic blockade, Iran has held thirty elections since 1979. The voting is supervised by school teachers, government servants and retired professionals. It is similar in many ways to the electoral process in India. The “liberal” Khatami won his first election in 1995 as president with 70 per cent of the vote when the interior ministry was under the control of the so called “conservatives”. 

 

The political chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Yadollah Javani, had in fact warned the “reformist” camp just before Iranians went to the polls, against staging a “velvet revolution”. He pointed out that for the first time some groups have used “a specific colour” in the elections.

 

The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has experienced the machinations of the West first hand, said that Ahmadenijad had won the elections fair and square and condemned those “trying to stain Ahmadenijad’s triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution”.