14 Jun 2009 02:09
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 13 June 2009
Iran's rancorous presidential election took a completely unexpected turn. All indications were that Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi would win in a landslide, including the following: Fierce competition between the reformist and conservative camps, accusations of corruption and nepotism, disputed statistics cited by President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad on the state of Iran's economy, and being called a liar for it by Mousavi, the main reformist candidate who also strongly criticized Iran's foreign policy and international standing under Mr. Ahmadinejad.
In the last week of the campaign nearly 40 independent polls had all reached the same conclusion: that Mr. Mousavi's vote would be at least twice that of Mr. Ahmadinejad. The best evidence supporting the polls was huge rallies held around the nation in which tens of thousands of people participated in support of Mr. Mousavi. But, the rallies had also frightened the hard-liners who have been terrified by the prospect of a "velvet revolution." Indeed, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the political director of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRI), which is the backbone of the armed forces, had warned on Wednesday that the Guards consider the rallies and their symbolic color, green, as part of a plan for a colorful revolution, and will not allow that to happen.
Making matters more complex was the fact that the conservatives were deeply divided over the issue of whether they should support Mr. Ahmadinejad. Many prominent conservative political figures and groups refused to support Mr. Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there was also a second conservative candidate, former IRGC commander Mr. Mohsen Rezaaee. Former president and powerful politician Mr. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had let it be known in an open letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he believed that the continuation of Mr. Ahmadinejad's presidency was not in Iran's national interests.
But, Mr. Ahmadinejad has the support of those who perhaps matter most, namely, the high command of the IRGC, the Basij militia, and Ayatollah Khamenei who has been his strongest supporter, has praised him repeatedly, and had sent several signals that Mr. Ahmadinejad was his preferred choice. According to a credible rumor, Ayatollah Khamenei had told Mr. Rafsanjani that, "Ahmadinejad's defeat will be my defeat."
In the first few hours after 82% of the eligible voters has cast their votes, Mr. Mousavi appeared headed toward a landslide victory. According to one of his campaign spokesmen, the famed Iranian movie director Mr. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Interior Ministry that supervises elections in Iran had even called the campaign headquarters to advise them that they should prepare a victory statement without boasting greatly, in order not to upset Ahmadinejad's supporters.
But then things changed abruptly. One of Mr. Mousavi's campaign headquarters in northern Tehran was ransacked by security agents, the websites supporting him were blocked, and all the SMS communications were cutoff. The Interior Ministry, led by Sadegh Mahsouli and his deputy Kamran Daneshjou, both former commanders in the IRG, began to rapidly release the results of voting counts that indicated that Mr. Ahmadinejad was far ahead. This was also unexpected, not only because the Ministry had indicated that it would release the data gradually beginning midday Saturday, but also because it was unlike the practice of past elections. Thus, even before the Iranian people woke up on Saturday morning, Mr. Ahmadinejad had been declared the "winner" of the election by a landslide.
Mr. Mousavi rejected the results, issued a strongly worded statement promising his supporters that he would resist the fraud, pleaded with important Ayatollahs in the holy city of Qom to intervene, and even wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei protesting the vote counting. Mr. Mahdi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate who had also run a strong campaign, ridiculed the results and declared that, "If we do not resist this [fraud], people will never help us again."
Various reports indicate that many leading reformists, intellectuals, human rights advocates, and members of the opposition Nationlist-Religious groups have been arrested. Al Jazeera TV has reported that Mr. Rafsanjani has resigned from two powerful positions that he has held, namely, the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts (both constitutional bodies). Street demonstrations also broke out in many cities, including Tehran, Mashhad (in northeastern Iran) and Baabol (in northern Iran) with some casualties and many arrests.
So, what does the future hold for Iran, and its relationship with the West? Repression of the society that began under Mr. Ahmadinejad will deepen. There will likely be a wide ranging crackdown on the reformist/democratic groups, as well as university students and human rights advocates. We may see nationally broadcast "confessions" of political figures, admitting their "crimes." The IRGC's influence in the state's affairs, which began under Mr. Ahmadinejad, will spread, and its financial empire will expand in order to control all aspects of Iran's economy.
As for the reformists, they will hopefully learn that just participating in the electoral process is not enough to confront the conservatives who control all levers of power. They need to organize the masses, and form strong non-governmental organizations and political groups, and develop a young leadership that can connect effectively with the people.
In the international arena, the aggressive foreign policy of Mr. Ahmadinejad will continue. The Obama administration will find it more difficult to reach a negotiated solution to its dispute with Iran over its nuclear program, given that all the moderate dissenting voices within Iran are being suppressed.
The international community must refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Mr. Ahmadinejad's re-election, demand cancellation of the elections, and holding new fair and democratic elections that can be monitored by international monitors.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau