Iran’s Elections 2009
The End of Hope for peaceful Democratic Reforms
Ali Asghar Kazemi
June 13, 2009
Presidential elections of June 12, 2009 in Iran shall be remembered as the end of an era of democratic process toward political reform in a religious-revolutionary regime in Iran. For the first time in recent history, Iranians felt they are changing the course of events through peaceful means using their citizen’s rights. But, when the results were announced, they have been shocked and disheartened by the results. Despite all encouraging polls and optimistic anticipations in favor of reformist Mousavi, the incumbent hard-line president was declared victor!
What happened during the campaign for presidential elections in Iran which distinct it from the previous ones? What are the implications of this new trend for political development and democratic process in Iran? Who are the real winners and losers of this historic contest?
Perhaps the emergence of an odd personality such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran’s political landscape paved the way for rising demand for truthfulness, honesty and accountability. As I stated elsewhere, Ahmadinejad was the product of a period of eight years of controversies between two conflicting views: that expressed by a moderate soft-spoken clergy, Mr. Khatami, who was considered as “reformist” by Western political standards; and the opposite represented by the conservative religious-revolutionary groups, who pretended to be the legitimate guardian of the Islamic regime.
As we remember, Ahmadinejad came into power after a period of crises-ridden challenge for moderation and proliferation of civil liberty in which people tasted the flavor of freedom and began a gradual march towards a modern civil society in Iran. This however, did not please the conservative traditional layers of the country and the religious system, feeling much vulnerable, was alarmed to the point that the previous open-minded president, Khatami, was coined as the “Gorbachev of Iran” risking the survival of the regime.
During his two terms in office, president Khatami failed to accomplish his promised goals due to obstacles on his way created by his opponents in the legislative body and judiciary. Feeling deceived, young and enthusiastic people who had voted for Khatami turned back to him and thus reformist movement and supporters gradually disintegrated and vanished from political scene, leaving the ground to hard-line conservatives with new attractive promises.
Almost four years after the conservative grip of absolute power, with a nation at the brink of social and economic crises, the reformists embarked for a new comeback. Upon several months of speculations, finally the former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, backed by former president Khatami, decided to run for president with the slogan of saving the country from total collapse and insolvency. Allegedly, he had the implicit support of another powerful figure, Hashemi Rafsanjani, former speaker of the parliament, a two-term president, and incumbent chairman of the Expediency Council and head of Assembly of Experts.
With a view to overcome the bad memory of the previous presidential elections, which ended up in favor of the hard-line conservative front, purportedly through dubious circumstances and manipulations of ballot boxes, and to deal with the rumors of fraud, the Islamic regime decided to allow candidates to use the state-run Radio and Television( Seda va Sima) for their publicity. This included a time-table allocated for live debates between different contenders. This was organized mainly as a sign of free democratic process and in order to attract the most possible participation in presidential elections.
The competition was essentially among four key personalities coming from the inner circle of the Islamic regime. They were: the incumbent president, Ahmadinejad and Mohsen Rezaie (secretary of the Expediency Council) from the conservative wing on the one side and former speaker of the parliament, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi known as “reformists” on the other. However, when they started their debates, the differences in their positions and programs turned out to be real. Apparently, the heated debates between the president and the other three contenders on various issues, especially in the fields of economy and foreign policy, was quite decisive for those people who had not yet made their mind about candidates.
For the first time in the current history of Iran, the Islamic regime decided to tolerate such democratic exercise whose outcome was not quite known to many. The debate between the incumbent president and the former Prime Minister Mousavi ended up by rival defamation and war of words and serious accusations which put the credibility of the whole system and its major personalities into serious doubts. People watched the show with enthusiasm and bafflement and took to the street afterward chanting slogans against rival candidates.
While such debates are even rare in democratic countries, naturally in Iran, without much experience in this area, the face to face challenge went beyond rule of ethics and good conduct and in some instances encroached upon constitutional requisites. Critiques and accusations raised in the debates echoed those nourished by opposition groups during the past several years.
Upon the conclusion of several rounds of debates among and interviews of presidential contestant, polls have tilted adversely against the incumbent president. People, especially from among educated and middle class layers felt betrayed and manipulated by Ahmadinejad. Many expressed the opinion that he was neither a genuine academic, as he wished to be identified, nor a religious-revolutionary, as pretended, or even not a “petty dictator” as labeled by the Columbia University president; he was simply a pompous liar, a miserable hypocrite and an arrogant individual with megalomaniac character who could endanger the security of the country and the well-being of the people by his eccentric behavior and odd policies.
In effect, Ahmadinejad proved to be a master manipulator of populace who managed to stay in office by rhetoric, pretensions and fabrication of false statistics about inflation, unemployment and many other major economic indexes. Iranians and the country as a whole have suffered very much during his tenure in office.
When finally the results of the votes came out in early morning of June 13, surprisingly, Ahmadinejad came out as victor with a landslide difference with other contenders. Only God knows what happened to the ballot boxes and the smart people of Iran in casting their votes in the memorable elections day!
While reformists are baffled about the results of the elections, there is little hope that they could recover from the decisive defeat in the foreseeable future. In all circumstances, there was little chance for Moussavi, even if elected, to perform better than Khatami on essential issues, due to structural limitations and deficiencies of the Islamic regime. The defeat of reformists should be regarded as the end of hope for enthusiastic Iranians around the world who believed they can change the situation in Iran through peaceful democratic process.
Despite the ill-fated result of this contest for the reformists, there is no doubt that this event will boost people expectations and their demands for more transparency and accountability in future. Indeed the Islamic regime will need some time to recover from the shock of these unexpected revelations to its credibility and legitimacy.
On the other side, this paradoxical outcome will undoubtedly pave the path to further repression, poverty, insecurity and a host of other socio-political crises in Iran. From now on Iranians should be prepared for a harsher condition and a darker horizon unless some kind of miracle happens.
Iranians have been once again deceived in their earnest attempt towards shaping their destiny for a brighter future. Whatever the explanation for this strange occurrence and its plausible ramifications for Iran’s political development, the outcome of the elections can be construed as the demise of truth and reason and the triumph of deception, superstition, fanaticism and blind adventurism. /
Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. See: www.stradis.blogspot.com
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