Leaving Islam



Iran ’s electoral dilemma – Rafsanjani or Ahmadinejad?

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah  


In late February 2004 when Iranian voters went to polling place to elect their parliamentary members, the supreme ‘Guardian Council’ barred some 2500 reformist candidates.  As a result, Iran ’s parliament became a mouthpiece of the conservative Mullahs.  At that time, I wrote an article entitled “End of the Road for Reforms in Iran ?  Quite a few newspapers and web site published that piece in which I made a forecast that reform movement will come to a standstill in Iran .  It seems as if my prediction came true.  

On June 17, 2005, Iranians went to polling places to select their president from a field of candidates.  There were hardliners, moderates, and pragmatic candidates.  However, in this presidential election, the majority of the voters chose candidates who were either archconservative or semi-conservative.  The reformist candidate came out fifth in the contest.  The two most vote getters were Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a veteran Iranian Mullah who is considered an insider in the circle of the ruling clerics.  The candidate who came second is a newcomer to the national politics by the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Mr. Ahmadinejad is the appointed mayor of Teheran and a veteran of Iranian army who if elected would favor more Islamization of the central authority in Iran .  

Although the election was held on June 17, 2005, it took two days to know the standing of the candidates in the poll.  Ayatollah Rafsanjani garnered 21% votes and the mayor of Teheran, Mr. Ahmadinejad received nearly 19.5% votes.  The former Parliament speaker, Mahdi Karroubi, came out third with 19.3% vote.  Mr. Karroubi’s campaign manager, Ali Akbar Montashamipour, had already complained to the newspaper reporters that the military had interfered on behalf of Ahmadinejad.  He even went as far as saying that the election was rigged.  

The reformist candidate, Mr. Mostafa Moin, who was favored by reformist Iranians, came out a distant fifth in the contest capturing only 14% of the vote.  Allegedly a record 67% of the voters came to the polling places.  Still then, many civil rights activists are calling the election a farce.   

I learned from an AFP report published on June 19, 2005, that Iranian Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi is disenchanted with the election result.  She told AFP, “As long as there is this supervisory law on elections I will not take part in any election.  Iranians have enough political awareness to make the right decision on their own and they don't need a political prescription from people like me.  I’m neither an opposition leader nor a party leader.”  Ms. Ebadi was referring to limitless power of unelected hardliners (the Guardian Council) to choose who can actually stand for public office.  The Guardian Council is the ultimate weapon the clerics of Iran have to control the power in parliament.  They are not going to give it way no matter how much complain the West does calling the council anti-democratic institution the mullahs have formed in Iran .  

After the first round of election, the crowded field of half a dozen or so candidates is now left with two candidates.  One is a former hardliner cleric, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who claims to have moderated his position vis-à-vis West to appease tens and thousands of reform-minded voters.  The second candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a champion of Islamism in Iran who truly represents the archconservative ruling clerics of the nation.  On top of it, Mr. Ahmadinejad has wide support amongst the military of Iran .   

Some candidates have already opened their mouth in the aftermath of June 17 election while complaining vociferously the way the ruling clerics have favored one particular candidate over the others.  They think the mayor of Teheran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, had received a wide support from the ruling clerics in this election.  In the runoff election for president, the ruling clerics will undoubtedly support the candidacy of Mr. Ahmadinejad.   

What the vast majority of reformist-minded voters would do in the runoff election is not certain but two scenarios are painted in the newspapers.  Many liberals who favor the opinion of Ms. Shirin Ebadi now say that they will boycott the election because both the contestants have similar views except that Ayatollah Rafsanjani now says he favors moderation and maintain ties with the West.  Mullah Rafsanjani, 70, who was the president of Iran from 1989 through 1997 for two terms, is a mix of political cunning and business power.  He is a nominal head of a family empire that includes an airline and a large cut of the nation’s pistachio export business.  He is well respected among the inner circles of the theocracy.  Therefore, the Ayatollahs and other mullahs in Iran will tolerate him as the president.  He now portrays himself as the most capable and middle of the road leader to handle Iran ’s delicate negotiations with the West over its nuclear ambitions, which the Bush Administration claims is a cover for a weapons program.  The government of Iran however maintains it only seeks peaceful nuclear power.  

The other candidate, Mr. Ahmadinejad, draws his support from Iran ’s ultra-conservative wings such as veterans of the 1980-1989 war with Iraq and the civilian “basiji” militia corps with ties to the ruling establishment.  Among his supporters are older voters who see Islam as a panacea for Iran .  The ex-military men and their family members will also support his candidacy.  It seems therefore that Mr. Ahmadinejad will be favored by the ruling clerics.  To his credit he was a member of a militant student faction during the revolution (1979) and later volunteered to fight on the front lines against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the 1980s.  He served in provincial posts in the 1990s before being appointed as mayor of Tehran in 2003 by the conservative-led municipal council.  

There is a big difference between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad as far as campaign style goes.  Ayatollah Rafsanjani ran a slick and sophisticated Western-style campaign that portrayed him as the seasoned and trusted political navigator, “wise to the ways of international diplomacy, strong enough to stare down the United States but astute enough to know when to return to fight another day” – as one analyst remarked.  An AP reporter said, “Mr. Rafsanjani was shown on state-run television chatting with his wife, talking to young people, listening to girls dressed in modest coats and headscarves but not the all encompassing black chador.”  

In contrast to Rafsanjani, the arch conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, embraces his image of the simple, unpolished man who told a news conference that he could not foresee improved ties with any country that “seeks hostility” against Iran, a usual reference to the United States the country labeled by Ayatollah Khomeini as “Great Satan.”  Experts described Ahmadinejad’s campaign style as “old-school” reminiscent of the days before the heavy emphasis on television images and sound bites.  Also, Ahmadinejad passed out pamphlets and had his supporters plaster cement walls with his picture.  The appointed mayor of Teheran is unabashedly conservative, and holds the view that Iran had seen enough political reform.  His campaign mantra has been to tap into Iran ’s national pride.  His favorite slogan: “It is possible and we can do it.”  His second favorite was “Islamization of the administration,” an indication of the conservative path he is sure to follow if elected.  

Now that it is crystal clear two conservatives will be running head-to-head in the upcoming presidential runoff, what would the nation’s liberal and reform-minded voters do?  Will they boycott the election and stand on the sideline to see the archconservative candidate, Mayor Ahmadinejad, win the election with the support of the ruling clerics?  Or, should they support Ayatollah Rafsanjani because he says he prefers moderation and wants to mend fences with the West?  Without the support from reformist minded voters Ayatollah Rafsanjani will not be able to win this election.  On that assumption, we expect Rafsanjani to further shift his position—more to the liberal and pragmatic side.  Stay tuned for we are going to see the chameleon candidate Rafsanjani assuming a new demeanor pretty soon.     


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans , USA    


Dear Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah

This election is a sham. The ruling clerics are fully behind Rafsanjani. Ahmadinejad is simply a pawn propped by the Mullahs to give the voters no other choice, force them to vote in huge numbers and hence give the semblance of legitimacy to the final elections. The Mullahs are applying the old Persian adage that says: "Offer them death so they be content with fever".  If Iranians go to vote, they have fallen into the trap of the Mullahs.  This whole election is nothing but a mockery of the voters. The result of the election was already decided a few years ago. Neither Rafsanjani nor Ahmadinejad have any support in Iran. It makes no difference whether 60 people vote or 60 million; the result is already decided. The rest is theatrics. I am surprised how outsiders know so little about the Mullahs' cunningness. 

Ali Sina






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