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The Supreme Leader's One Vote

12 Jun 2009 12:058 Comments
ahmadi1By MEA CYRUS in London | 5 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Back in 1997, many believe that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had made up his mind to back the conservative cleric Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri in the presidential campaign, even after it became quite clear that the general support was trending towards Mohammad Khatami. It was even rumored that when casting his vote, Khamenei took the ballot and wrote at an angle to show that he was writing Nateq Nouri!

On the other hand, some people like Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani give themselves credit that they managed to convince Khamenei that people were going to elect Khatami and that it would be an embarrassing crisis for the supreme leader's image if he asked -- more like ordered -- people to vote for one candidate and the people voted for another instead. Some have claimed that Rafsanjani talked Khamenei out of overt public support of Nateq Nouri at that time by showing him polling data that proved Iranians wanted Khatami.

As history has a tendency to repeat itself, this time round, the supreme ayatollah is doing exactly the same thing - maybe he blames Rafsanjani for what happened in Iran in the eight years under President Khatami -- and this time Rafsanjani seems unable or unwilling to convince him again not to support one side of the campaign. He has been steadfast in showing his unprecedented support for Ahmadinejad's government by calling it "the best administration" in the past 30 years. He has virtually ridiculed former presidents by saying Ahmadinejad has upheld Islamic values much better than a cleric. (Three cleric presidents, including himself, ran the country 24 of the 30 years of the Islamic Republic.)

But is it really about Islamic values this time or has he found himself beleaguered by a powerful bunch that might even try to unseat him if things go very wrong?

Today Rafsanjani has a firm political foothold by having the Expediency Council and the Council of Experts in his grip. Perhaps the thought of having Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister, rise to claim the No. 2 position in the country is all the more unsettling for that reason. Perhaps Khamenei is right to be concerned: Mousavi was not just any premier. He was smart and wily enough to hide behind Khomeini when mounting a successful resistance against the then-president -- yes, Khamenei.

Ayatollah Khomeini, for his part, was smart enough to support Mousavi in a bid to control Khamenei as president. That was why many people thought 20 years of Mousavi's absence from all walks of "real" political life in Iran had something to do with their historic feud back in the Khomeini days. Therefore, it was not unexpected that one of the first things Khamanei did was to abolish the post of prime minister when he was rising to become the supreme power broker.

That is why the supreme leader has thrown all his political weight behind Ahmadinejad. To him, Mousavi has a proven record of resisting his wishes and defying him; so Khamenei seems to be following the saying, "You should not test a tested person." That is why he decided to criticize Mousavi after a televised presidential debate rather than Ahmadinejad, even when the majority of the 50 million viewers thought the time had come for Ahmadinejad to be told off by the leader, since he crossed all red lines and said things nobody ever believed they would hear from a president's mounth on a live television program. In that debate, Ahmadinejad accused all previous cabinets and many senior figures of graft. He even went on the personal attack, pointing his finger at Rafsanjani, Nateq Nouri (head of Special Inspections Office of the Supreme Leader), Nateq Nouri's son and many others by calling them corrupt and claiming they had only filled their own pockets for the past 30 years.

By now, one would think that the integrity and the good name of the Iranian electoral system was more important to Khamenei than Ahmadinejad's bid for reelection. But when the supreme leader decided to criticize Mousavi publicly by saying, "Those who in the presidential debate claimed Iran has lost its standing among other countries in the world [under Ahmadinejad] are wrong," little doubt was left that he wants Ahmadinejad to lead the tenth government no matter if the survival or existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran is at stake. Or is this all a smart ploy to confuse the West to buy some more time to push ahead with a special existential insurance strategy for a clerical regime?

In many ways, Khamenei is handling the most important election in the past thirty years; his miscalculation could bring the regime close to a point of no return. Considering all the miscalculations that have been going on in Iran in recent years, the big question is this: Does the supreme leader know what he's doing by putting all his eggs in Ahmadinejad's basket?

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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according to thi sarticle what you are claiming is not entirely correct in that the Supreme leader did chastize Ahmadinejad for the way he was pointing fingers.


zal / June 5, 2009 7:45 PM

Dear Zal: You and Robert Tait have categorically misunderstood what Mr. Khamenei said after the debate. Mr. Khamenei made a general statement; he said that the candidates should not resort to character assassination, something everyone witnessed Mr. Ahmadinejad doing through the entire course of the debate. Mr. Khamenei never said anything about Mr. Ahmadinejad's accusations that Mr. Rafsanjani, his sons and political allies were corrupt people. Mr. Khamenei did not call on the candidates to stay clear of naming and shaming others. Besides, Mr. Ahmadinajd carried on last night in the same vain on a special TV program. He said he would continue naming and shaming corrupt officials. He had stressed that point a few hours before in his speech in Esfahan, saying "This is only the beginning!" So either Mr. Khamanei has not blasted Ahmadinejad for his remarks (something Robert Tait says in The Guradian due to the usual misunderstanding western journalists have when it comes to Iran) or Ahmadinejad is the one who calls the shots and the Supreme Leader's words do not count at all!

kimia / June 5, 2009 8:36 PM

one more thing is that though many people talk of Rafsanjani's wealth and corruption and rich people who are around him, but he has never been tried and convicted in a court of law. I am not saying Rafsanjani is not a corrupt person, politics is twin brother of corruption one way or another, but Ahmadinejad calling him by such labels on live shows and Khamenei keeping mum about it is something we had never seen before. there could be a bloodbath and arrests and God knows what, if Mousavi had said things like what Ahmadinejad said about Khamenei's men and his allies. so I hope you see my point that MEA is right spot on in saying supreme leader of Iran has thrown his political weight behind Ahmadinejad and that is a precarious gamble in its own, if and only if vote of people pick Mousavi, repeating what happened in 1997!

Kimia / June 5, 2009 9:36 PM

I really needed to read an analysis like this after Ahmadinejad's interview with Heydari last night. How, I thought, could this charlatan get away with such steep accusations (last night he was even more vicious) unless he had powerful backing? But I cannot believe Khamenei would take sides like this to save his own hide. What a "Leader" indeed!

Cyrus, I would be interested to hear your views on how Ahmadinejad's populist rhetoric is working on the masses this time around? Do they view him as vulgar and shameless - or god forbid, bold and fearless?!

To me, this election is a test of the smarts of the Iranian people -- all of them, not just enlightened students or residents of north Tehran. If they elect AN -- then Iran deserves its sullied name.

Tara / June 5, 2009 11:36 PM

There are all sorts of rumors, and Cyrus gives her (his?) take on them.

Khamenei did seem to criticize Mousavi, but he also seemed to criticize Ahmadinejad when he said after the debate that candidates should not attack others. He also emphsized his "one vote" and visited Mousavi's father at Mir Hossein's home. In Iranian politics these are unmistakable signals.

Khamenei is trying to cover all of his bases. He probably senses that Mousavi or Karroubi may get elected, and as Cyrus said he does not want to look bad in that event.

Khamenei himself is encircled by the sepaah. They swim around him like sharks.

Anonymous / June 6, 2009 2:11 PM

"One doesn't like to see a nominee, for the sake of proving himself, seeking to negate somebody else," Khamenei said in a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of the Iranian revolution's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. "I have no problem with debate, dialogue and criticism but these debates must take place within a religious framework."

The first part of this quote from Khamenei is directly aimed at Ahmadinejad. That is a harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad to hear from Khamenei.

zal / June 6, 2009 3:09 PM

Why do I say Khamenei has all his eggs in the AN basket?

Consider how Khamenei could be ferociously lambasting those who disregarded his views on internal and foreign policy issues. Look at the many ways Khamenei has supported AN (i.e. his language, actions). As mentioned in the commentary, the SL's level of support for AN is *unprecedented*. Compare that to the SL language cited by those who argue Khamenei hasn't put all of his eggs in one basket, to indicate that the SL was unhappy about how the candidates handled themselves:

"It is not right to see that a candidate, whether in campaign speeches or on TV or anywhere else, with different justifications resorts to rejecting his rivals to prove his own righteousness. In my opinion, this is not right. Previously, I had made a recommendation in this regard, and now that we are on the eve of elections, I repeat it again."

Don't be quick to assume that the SL's comments were directed at AN. They were so general that any of the 4 candidates could interpret it as the SL pointing a finger at them. This is the supposed criticism of AN. Compare that to how pinpoint clear the SL was when he blasted Mousavi for saying Iran has lost its image in the world over the past 4 years.

More importantly, the SL did not indicate that he was displeased that Rafsanjani and others were named during the debates by AN. That, coupled with AN repeating, TWO DAYS AFTER THE DEBATE, on another live TV show, in even much stronger language than he used against Rafsanjani; using a quote from Imam Ali, he said these corrupt people (i.e. Rafsanjani & Co) should be dragged into the streets and made to hang their heads in shame! And add to that AN saying that 'this is only the beginning, if they don't stop pressuring me...'

All of these point to one conclusion:

The SL has showed such support for AN and put his eggs in his basket so confidently and publicly that he can't take them out even if he wanted to and all indicators show that he wants his eggs to remain there as AN has increased the velocity and range of things he has beensaying about top politicians.

All commentators in Iran who in a fit of wishful thinking expected AN to be strongly criticized by the SL, are now also firm in their belief that AN has gotten all the possible support the SL might have given a president.

Did not the SL say publicly to AN, 'go and plan for the next four years?' (This was said a few months before the presidential campaign.)

And look at what Kayhan, the SL's mouthpiece, wrote today.

The SL has thrown all his political might behind AN and that has worried me. His gamble might not pay off, unless the votes are rigged, that is.

Mohtashamipour, Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, (whose role there some may remember well), has said there are plans in place to shut down mobile networks and the internet. Such a plan, if implemented, plus the Guardian Council spokesman warning that the powerful organization expects to reject voting results from some constituencies, and many other factors, all say one thing:

Expect AN to win, and expect that to happen because the SL has put all of his eggs in AN's basket.

MEA Cyrus / June 6, 2009 3:13 PM

The Leader has a very spotty record in tipping elections. In 2005 he seemed to support Qalibaf right up to the last minute, when he switched in desperation to Ahmadinejad (who may have actually lost the first round if it had not been for some electoral hanky-panky). In 1997 it was pretty clear that Khamenei supported Nateq-Nuri, and the smart money said he was certain to win -- until Khatami took it wih 69% of the vote.

Handicapping Iranian elections is a hazardous profession, and the Leader seems to be no better than anyone else. No wonder he is covering all his bases.

Gary / June 6, 2009 3:18 PM