The dust settles

Print edition : July 31, 2009

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran on July 1.-ATTA KENARE/AFP

THE political storm whipped up by the result of the presidential poll in Iran has seemingly died down. Only the hard core, urban supporters of the two defeated candidates, Mir Housein Mousavi and Mehdi Kharoubbi, have refused to acknowledge the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election. The third defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, belatedly accepted the result, in the last week of June. Although the reformist candidate Mousavi and also Kharoubbi have urged their supporters to keep on protesting, the response from the streets, since late June, has been lukewarm.

However, most observers of the Iranian scene have concluded that the dramatic events of June have caused disunity in the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution. For the first time, some important religious and political leaders obliquely questioned the authority of the countrys spiritual guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the Guardian Council, which has the responsibility of monitoring the election, upheld the June election as the healthiest one held since the revolution, many prominent reformist politicians and even some ayatollahs alleged that the spiritual leader was biased in favour of his protege Ahmadinejad. The most prominent personality who questioned the validity of the result was former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He is currently the chair of the influential Assembly of Experts.

Theoretically, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove the Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani had played a key role in the appointment of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the Supreme Leader following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Ahmadinejad had angered Rafsanjani during the run-up to the election by accusing Rafsanjani of propping up his rivals. He also accused Rafsanjanis family of amassing unaccounted wealth.

Another former President, the reformist Mohammed Khatami, also questioned the electoral outcome. Even when Ahmadinejad won his first presidential election five years ago, there were dark murmurs about vote rigging. At that time, Ahmadinejad was relatively unknown but came from behind to win the presidency.

But, as the prominent Egyptian commentator Mohammed Heikal pointed out in a television interview, all the candidates were children of the revolution. Heikal said that he had no doubt about the victory of Ahmadinejad. He went on to say that the political system in Iran was mature enough to resolve the current impasse. Mousavi had repeatedly said that the demonstrations by Iranians did not violate the Constitution. Most Iran-watchers agree that the battle that was waged in June was one between two factions within the establishment.

But the West, which has relentlessly caricatured Ahmadinejad, started fantasising about a regime change in Iran. There was frenzied talk of a green revolution materialising overnight in Iran, similar to the colour revolutions in eastern and central Europe. The twitter revolution, which almost overthrew the newly elected Left government in Moldova in March, was sought to be replicated in Iran.

Now that the storm has subsided, American President Barack Obama is being urged by both conservatives and liberals in the United States to freeze the putative diplomatic dealings with Iran. Obama is the first American President to admit his countrys role in the toppling of Irans first democratically elected government in 1953. He is seen to prefer a more conciliatory approach towards Teheran. This was evident in the speech Obama delivered at Cairo University in June, wherein he addressed Iran by its official name, the Islamic Republic of Iran the first time ever by an American President.

However, after Obamas statement condemning the Iranian governments handling of the post-election protests and his praise for Mousavi, Iran-U.S. relations, which had thawed slightly, have once again frozen over. Ahmadinejad sought an apology from Obama for his remarks over the conduct of the election. The Iranians have other reasons to be angry with Washington. The Obama administration is continuing with the destabilisation blueprint of the previous administration. USAID, which is under the U.S. State Department, has earmarked $20 million this year to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran.

Iranians have noticed that Obama has not bothered to condemn the recent killing of hundreds of native Indians in Peru by security forces or done anything meaningful to restore democracy in Honduras after the President of the country was ousted in a military coup.

According to the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the previous Bush administration had sought $400 million to destabilise the clerical establishment. George W. Bush escalated covert operations against Iran in the last year of his presidency. Reports in the American media also suggested that Washington had assisted armed guerilla groups that were active among minority ethnic groups in Iran. In a November 2006 article, Hersh wrote that the Pentagon had established covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi tribesmen and had encouraged their efforts to undermine the regimes authority in northern and south-eastern Iran.

Teherans current grouse is against the role played by the British government and media in the events of June. One leading cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, said that Britain had behaved very mischievously and it is fair to add the slogan down with England to the slogan of down with the USA. The European Union (E.U.) is talking about withdrawing its ambassadors en bloc from Teheran, despite the absence of any evidence to prove that the poll was rigged.

This picture, posted on Twitters photo-sharing website TwitPic, according to its user, shows supporters of Irans defeated presidential candidate Mir Housein Mousavi dressed in black at a protest on June 18 in Teheran to mourn the demonstrators killed in clashes during previous protests. (Following an official ban on foreign media outlets covering demonstrations in Iran, has put out pictures from other sources.)-AFP

From the outset, it was only the Western media pundits who were predicting a victory for Mousavi. There was no doubt that he swept the poll in northern Teheran and other affluent suburbs in various Iranian cities. But the majority of Iranians, who continue to be poor, obviously preferred to renew their trust in the incumbent President.

His supporters credit him with reviving the basic values of the Islamic revolution, the most important of them being caring for the poor. The high price of oil during most of his first term in office helped his administration to plough funds into hitherto neglected areas of Iran.

Every week he visited remote rural outposts to look into the problems faced by the poor peasantry. Ahmadinejad, along with his Ministers, has visited each one of Irans 30 provinces twice during the past four years. He cut out bureaucratic red tape to ensure that the development funds he sanctioned reached their destination. Another populist move was to distribute billions of dollars worth of justice stocks (stocks in state-run companies) to the poor. This was part of the governments plan to build a more egalitarian society.

Most of the pre-election opinion polls conducted since March showed that Ahmadinejad was a clear front runner. The only poll conducted by a Western agency, on behalf of the BBC and the NBC, predicted an 89 per cent voter turnout. The poll conducted by the independent Centre of Public Opinion (CPO), which is backed by the Rockefeller Foundation, a few weeks before the election revealed that Ahmadinejad had a nation-wide advantage of two to one against his closest rival, Mousavi.

In the actual election, the turnout was 85 per cent, with Ahmadinejad getting 66.2 per cent of the votes polled and Mousavi 33.8 per cent. The Western media mainly covered the big rallies addressed by Mousavi in Teheran and other cities. Ahmadinejad criss-crossed the country addressing hundreds of equally well-attended rallies. In the 2005 presidential election, too, Ahmadinejad got almost the same percentage of votes. His rival, Rafsanjani, secured 35 per cent of the votes.

Although the election process is not open to registered parties and is vetted by the clerical establishment, the Islamic republic has a proud record of holding elections on schedule. Despite being subjected to war, terrorism and economic blockade, Iran has held 30 elections since 1979. The voting is supervised by schoolteachers, government servants and retired professionals. It is similar in many ways to the electoral process in India. The liberal Mohammad Khatami won his first presidential election in 1995 with 70 per cent of the vote when the Interior Ministry was under the control of the conservatives.

Yadollah Javani, political chief of Irans Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), had on the eve of the June presidential election warned the reformist camp against staging a velvet revolution. He pointed out that for the first time some groups have used a specific colour in the election.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has experienced the machinations of the West first hand, said Ahmadinejad had won the election fair and square and condemned those trying to stain Ahmadinejads triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution.

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