Bush Helps Hardliners
Neoconservative Ahmadinejad in Lead
The Iranian voting public put a hardliner and a conservative pragmatist into a run-off election with their ballots on Friday. With a turnout of 62 percent or more, voters rejected reformist youth calls for a boycott and some said they meant their vote to be a slap in the face of US President George W. Bush. In the lead is Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran and a hardliner close to the Islamist vigilantes (“Basij”) of the grass roots Khomeinist movement. Coming in close second is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a conservative pragmatist who dealt with the Americans during the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal. They will face each other in a run-off next Friday.
Wire services report,
‘ “I picked Ahmadinejad to slap America in the face,” said Mahdi Mirmalek after attending Friday prayers at Tehran University.
At Tehran University, the leader of Friday prayers, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, told worshippers that voting “strengthens the pillars of the ruling Islamic establishment.” Followers then joined in with the common chant of “Death to America!” ‘
The vote is a repudiation of the relatively timid reform movement of outgoing president Mohammad Khatami, which never delivered an improved economy or administration. Its attempts to open up the Khomeinist system to greater personal liberties and greater freedom of speech were relentlessly blocked by the hardline clerics that controlled the judiciary and other oversight bodies. The Right closed dozens of reformist newspapers and cracked down on student demonstrations. The most outspoken reformist on the ballot, Mostafa Moin, did poorly. He had initially been excluded by the hardline clerics that vet Iranian candidates, but was put back on the ballot at the insistence of Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei. A more moderate reformer, Mehdi Karrubi, came in third and charged ballot fraud by the Revolutionary Guards who supported Ahmadinejad.
It is likely that the Iranian electorate’s swing to the Right reflects in part a deep unease about being surrounded by the United States, which has troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Post-revolutionary Iranians are nationalistic and determined to maintain their national independence, and all the talk by the Bush administration about regime change, aggressive action against Iran over its nuclear research program [which so far appears to have been conducted within the limits set by the Non-Proliferation Treaty], and the illegitimacy of the Iranian elections themselves, appears to have contributed to the greater success of the hardliners.
Ahmadinejad is a very bad character, with a long history of essentially fascist activity in suppressing points of view other than those of the hardline Khomeinists. He is said to have plotted the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie and to have been involved in planning terrorist actions by Iranian agents in the 1980s. Ironically, in Iranian terms he is a “Neoconservative,” the opposite number of the Cheneys, Perles and Feiths in the United States.
Ahmadinejad is a champion of Iran’s nuclear energy program and rejects US interference in Iranian affairs. He also has posed as a champion of the poor of Tehran, once dressing up as a street sweeper. This anti-imperialist and populist rhetoric of Ahmadinejad has clearly stood him in good stead.