Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Iran presidential race.

13 June 2005- Christian SCience Monitor:
By Haleh Vaziri and [G2K member] Bahman Baktiari

WASHINGTON, D.C. AND ORONO, MAINE . Iran's field of presidential
candidates offers the widest-ranging choices on the political spectrum
since the revolution of 1978-79 - of course, within the confines of the
Guardian Council's vetting procedures. Even though the Islamic Republic's
clerical leaders jealously guard their theocracy, they also permit
semi-competitive elections, seemingly unbothered in the short run by the
contradiction between institutions based on assertions of divine
sovereignty and mechanisms for popular participation.

The eight major candidates in Friday's race each portray themselves as the
answer to Iran's daunting challenges - from the need for legal and
socioeconomic reforms and questions about the Supreme Leader's
prerogatives, to diplomacy and the development of nuclear weapons
technology. However, former president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's
reemergence on the scene has stirred both worries and cautious optimism in
Iran and the West. He is bolder than his opponents in pledging to
liberalize the economy, resolve the nuclear dispute with the West, and
normalize relations with Washington. And given his revolutionary
credentials and sense of pragmatism honed in the Islamic Republic's
labyrinthine factional struggles, Mr. Rafsanjani appears to be the
frontrunner in the polls.

Yet victory for Rafsanjani is not a foregone conclusion; the self-declared
reformist Mostafa Moin seems to be gaining ground. At first rejected by
the Guardian Council as a presidential contender, he was reinstated after
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei intervened to ensure at least the appearance
of a balanced election. Mr. Moin, former minister of science, research and
technology, resigned his post in 2003, protesting mistreatment of students
and repression that has stifled scientific development. With a platform
emphasizing intellectual freedom and cultural diversity, Moin has earned
credibility among the under-30s to almost two-thirds of Iranian society.
Polls taken by SHARQ, the major Tehran daily, suggest that if elected,
Rafsanjani would receive less than a quarter of the vote, with the rest of
the electorate splintering to give none of the other candidates a majority
and compelling a run-off contest, probably with Moin.

Indeed, without more significant popular backing, Rafsanjani, who is
considered an ideological chameleon by enthusiasts and detractors alike,
would find it tough to deal with the parliament's ultraconservative
majority. Neither the legislature nor Ayatollah Khamenei has much sympathy
for Rafsanjani's ideological flexibility, striving to preserve their own
vision of doctrinal purity. Refraining from openly endorsing one
candidate, the supreme leader - who is selected by the clerically
dominated Assembly of Experts rather than popularly elected - would be
more amenable to other presidential hopefuls whose loyalty to conservative
principles is not in doubt.

And if past promises are any indication, Rafsanjani cannot easily run on
the record of his two-term presidency from 1989 to 1997. After some
initial socioeconomic liberalization, his administration could not trim
Iran's unwieldy bureaucracy nor cut its red tape enough to attract foreign
investors. Rafsanjani could not capitalize on either the Bush or Clinton
teams' subtle overtures to restore ties with the US. And by the time he
left office, the EU states had withdrawn their ambassadors from Tehran,
charging Iranian agents of assassinating dissidents in exile.

Iran and its regional context are far different today from during the
1990s, when the reformist movement was more influential and the Islamic
Republic was not perceived as part of the "axis of evil." Conservatives
have now recaptured most government power centers. And some in the second
Bush administration and Congress have advocated that regime change be
applied to the Islamic Republic as part of the effort to democratize the
Middle East. With US troops next door in Afghanistan and Iraq, no Iranian
president can afford to take anything for granted.

So, before addressing the domestic agenda, whoever is elected will have to
diffuse the nuclear standoff with Washington and its European allies - the
most serious foreign-policy crises for the Islamic Republic since its
1980-1988 war with Iraq. With international opposition to the Islamic
Republic's quest for nuclear weapons technology intensifying, even a
leader of Rafsanjani's stature and shrewdness may not be able to convince
the Iranian citizenry that abandoning this quest is in the country's
long-term interest. More than half of Iranians support the nuclear program
and 46 percent are strongly behind it, according to a May survey
commissioned by the Washington-based firm InterMedia. Living in a
dangerous neighborhood and seeking recognition as a regional powerhouse,
neither Iranian citizens nor their leaders have much incentive to change
this policy, and international pressure may strengthen the Islamic
Republic's already defiant conservatives.

Iran's clerical leadership claims its legitimacy rests on divine
sovereignty, yet it has established mechanisms for popular participation
in decisionmaking. This paradox has at once ensured the Islamic Republic's
survival and produced gridlock in the national discourse, as a splintered
presidential vote and the decisions over nuclear technology may soon
demonstrate. A Rafsanjani presidency would not necessarily reconcile these
contradictions within the Iranian system and might actually aggravate
them. Meanwhile, Iranians, debating whether to vote on Friday or boycott
the contest, realize what their leaders have not yet explicitly admitted -
that their government cannot relate to them or tackle their concerns as
long as it is run by both the elected representatives of the people and
the unelected representatives of God on earth.

Haleh Vaziri is regional research manager for the Middle East and North
Africa at InterMedia, a media research organization. Bahman Baktiari, who
visited Iran in May, is director of international affairs at the
University of Maine. The views expressed here are their own.

[+/-] show/hide this post
# posted by International@jomhouri.com @ 10:07 AM
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?