Shiites Seek Something Close To Free

Shiites Seek Something Close to Free Elections

A glimpse of the likely strategy of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his chief aides can be found in an Iranian news report quoting this week’s Friday sermon of Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, Sistani’s representative in the holy city of Karbala.

“Karbalai told reporters after the prayers that if the UN team believes elections are not possible for a transitional government, due to be appointed by June 30, the Shiite clergy “will insist on a formula closer to elections than designations.”

That is, Sistani and his followers view the current Bremer plan as a form of appointment or “designation,” rather than being a free and fair election. If the latter is found impossible by the UN, they will press the world body to suggest a compromise that will at least retain some ability to reflect the popular will (Sistani actually speaks in these Enlightenment terms).

The important Iranian cleric and ex-president of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, preached a Friday sermon in which he praised Grand Ayatollah Sistani. According to BBC world monitoring, he said,

You can see what is happening in Iraq. The strong and acceptable position adopted by Shi’ites, Muslims and clergy, particularly Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq has put America in a bind. They are transparent and correct in demanding that the people of Iraq should decide their own fate from now on. They believe that the people should play a major role in forming a parliament, drafting a constitution, establishing a new government and holding elections. No-one can object to this demand. It is very difficult to deny this mandate in today’s world . . .

They the Americans claim that elections cannot be held at the present. But Iraqis believe that elections can be held. And they will prove their case. The last 10 months have proven that Americans and the occupiers would not be able to stabilize the situation in Iraq without the support of the people. They cannot export as much oil as they did during Saddam’s regime – oil that is their beloved and the main reason for their presence in Iraq. Therefore, no other solution is available in Iraq but the one proposed by Ayatollah Sistani.”

Rafsanjani’s remarks are notable because Iran itself does not hold the kind of open elections for which Sistani has called. Iran is roiled at the moment by an attempt of the hard line clerics to exclude thousands of candidates from running, including sitting members of parliament. Are Rafsanjani’s remarks a tacit critique of the hardliners? Or is he just being hypocritical?

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