Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The Upcoming Elections: Will the reformers have a chance?

By: Dr. Kazem Alamdari
December 4, 2007

How and why was it that the reformers were able to gain the upper hand in June of 1997 presidency election and the City and Town Council and then the 6th Majlis by a large number of votes in which the highest number of voters turned up since the creation of the Islamic Republic? They were able to take control of over two executive and legislative branches of the government and if the system was totally based on popular vote, they would win the entire power. But how then the reformists lost their gains one after another, first in the City and Town Councils, then the 7th Majlis and the 9th Presidency elections? The answers to these questions will shed some light on how they will fair in the upcoming election and whether they will succeed in regaining the upper hand and what factors will affect the outcome. What strategy and tactics must be used and in one sentence what must we learn from the last victory and defeat for a better strategy?

The key to the victory of the reform movement in 1997 and the subsequent elections was due to their implicit criticism of the theocratic form of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and promises of change in the structure of the regime to make it democratic; and the reason to their defeat was due to their distancing themselves from these promises resulting in their lose of the popular support among the people. Specifically, their defeat in the elections of the City and Town Council was due to their infighting and forgetting their legal responsibilities to the people. On the other hand, the right wingers came to power and won the City Council elections not on their own merits but rather because the people had lost all hopes of the reformers and low turnout in the election. The reformers did not learn from their first defeat and did not try to correct their strategy. On the contrary they criticized the people for being indifferent to the election. They did not understand that their previous victory was not because of their popularity but because of the people’s hatred toward the other camp and their unmet promises for change.

With the defeat in the City and Town Council elections and continuation of wrong policies, they lost the 7th Majlis as well. People learned that the reformist were more for the retaining of the existing system rather than change. President Khatami instead of criticizing the unfairness of the election process and fighting it, considered it free and fair therefore loosing more in the confidence of the people. In this election, hundreds of candidates, including 80 Majlis deputies were banned to run as unfit. The right wingers, by wining the 7th Majlis were prepared for the next step of regaining the presidency.

In the 9th presidency, the reformers lost because of 3 specific reasons. First, in their continuation of defeated policies of President Khatami which empowered the right wing conservatives and weekend the people’s movements, their own supportive base; second, the reformers were all scattered, which resulted in presenting 4 candidates instead of one; and third, giving up on their un-kept promises to Ahmadinejad who used it in his slogans of fighting poverty, corruption, and discrimination. Ahmadinejad used these promises and what the people wanted in other forms. Unlike the Reformers, he understood that those promises were still in the minds of the people and that is what they expect and he used this to ride on the tide. He challenged the 16 years of the previous administrations of Khatami, Rafsanjani and in a manner Khamenei’s. While the reformers continued on the previous policies. Unexpected victory of Ahmadinejad proved that those demands were still valid. The first round of the election ended with no winner, however, Ahmadinejad moved up from unknown candidate to the victorious candidate of the conservative camp. In the second round of the voting, he gained nearly 5 million of the reformist votes resulting in a total of 11.5 million votes for the reformers, down from 16.5 million and a gain of 17 million for his side up from 11.5 million. This is how the reformers were pushed aside from the power.

Is the past a shining light for the future?

If the past is a shining light for the future, then how must we learn from it? The reformers won due to their opposition to the conservatives and the theocratic nature of the Islamic Republic and their defeat was due to distancing themselves from their promises. Ahmadinejad used similar promises to gain victory. But today as the deceitfulness of these slogans become clear he is loosing his chances. The reality is that the majority of the Iranian people despise the Islamic Republic. This is not a slogan but the reality that no one can deny. Only due to the non-existence of an alternative, the people turn to the reformists at one time and then they start believing in Ahmadinejad’s slogans. That is why Ahmadinejad learned to wear an opposition garment to gain people’s confidence. Below are two quotations from the well known reformists to prove my point.

Just a few days after the 9th presidential election, Mohammad Reza Khatami, the former Majlis deputy, and younger brother of former president Khatami, analyzing the reason behind Ahmadinejad’s victory, wrote: “By distancing himself from the past 16 years, people were convinced that Ahmadinejad wanted to dismantle the structure. I believe that the vote for Ahmadinejad was not due to the fact that people were not on the side of Rafsanjani but rather on the side of Ahmadinejad. People voted for change because they were dissatisfied with the system that is ruling the country.” Ahmadinejad took the side of people’s demands. Abbas Abdi, a well known reformist political analyst also has the same sentiment when he says:” The people associated the political structure with Rafsanjani not Ahmadinejad. Had they wanted to vote for the regime, they would have voted for Rafsanjani and not Ahmadinejad. It does not matter if they had it correct or not. But their vote was based on this understanding hence they voted for Ahmadinejad.”

With this reality in mind, are the reformers basing their strategy on what the people want in upcoming election? On the contrary, they are working within the framework of the political structure of the Islamic Republic in order to survive the filters set by the Guardian Council instead of fighting it, in essence distancing themselves from the people. This is the same mistakes they did in the 9th Presidency elections by distancing themselves further away from the very slogans that brought them to power in June 23 1997 and brought Ahmadinejad to power in 2005. Their strategy is based on Ahmadinejad’s lack of popularity and not on reforming the regime, fight the abuse of human rights and bringing in democracy. They believe the more Ahmadinejad messes up the better chance they have to gain people’s confidence. The final word of the reformists is everyone should unite so they win in the elections. Then they can defeat Ahmadinejad and reinstall Khatami as the President. At the same time they warn the Human Rights defenders not to bring up anything about the human rights issues. For them victory is the number one issue and not their programs. That is why participation of reformist opposition in this undemocratic election is a big mistake. In the previous election, the people showed that what is important to them is the program of the candidates, not being tagged as reformists.
It appears that the current agenda of the reformists will have no impact on the people, civil society, democracy and their defenders. The people have experienced that even if Khatami regains the presidency, he will be powerless considering the fact that the real power lies in the hands of the shadow government which has hands in all aspects of the political structure. In the clientelist structure of the Islamic Republic whether the elements of the shadow government are in official positions or not, they will have their destructive and repressive rolls within the system. The Islamic Republic has always functioned like this and will do so in the future, unless the current legal and political structure is altered. This has to be the base of the reformist strategy. The reformers have also learned that even at the height of their popularity they could not touch the ill-functioned structure of IRI. Their agenda this time around is purely power sharing with the conservatives and nothing more. They see the people and those considered outsiders as only tools to gain more seats in the government with the current structure intact. They have even distanced themselves from the “Iran for all Iranians” slogan. They have learned to look at the scattered and politically banned secular reformist as tools to win their elections within this system.

Kazem Alamdari, Ph. D., Department of Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles. Email: kalamda@calstatela.edu

Translated by Mehdi Amini

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