Iran's Sham Elections

| Mon Jun. 20, 2005 4:30 PM EDT

Okay, call me an apologist, but I don't think you can fairly blame George Bush for the recent election results in Iran. I'll be the first to say that our Iran policy—what policy?—is completely screwed up, but let's not lose sight of the main problem hovering around the elections: the fix was in. Even if Hooman Madj is right and "large-scale fraud is unlikely to have occurred"—despite reports of baseej and militiamen intimidating voters—there's still the fact that all of the candidates had to be pre-approved by an unelected council of clerics. There's still the fact that the presidency is largely a useless role, without real power in the country, and that it didn't really matter whether a reformer like Mustafa Moin won; the status quo would've still plopped down, plump and happy, right where it was. I don't know if Bush was wise to denounce Iran's sham democracy right before a bunch of sham elections, but on the merits, what he said was accurate; it does no-one any good to pretend otherwise.

Anyway, it seems like the reformists are going to back Hashemi Rafsanjani in the runoff election, if only because his hard-liner opponent, former Tehran mayor Majmood Ahmadinejad, would allow the radical clerics in Iran to strengthen their grip on the country. But Rafsanjani certainly has no intention of liberalizing the country, or ushering in a new era of freedom and happiness. (Indeed, the danger is that if Rafsanjani wins with reformist support, the conservatives can claim newfound "legitimacy" and argue against those who would claim, quite rightly, that Iran is undemocratic.) On the bright side, analyst Sanam Vakil has argued that Rafsanjani will at least buck the conservative line and try for a rapprochement with the United States. That's better than nothing, provided, of course, that the United States would actually be willing to talk. The other interesting question is whether student groups and other reformists will take to the streets if Ahmadinejad wins. Not to mention: What will the United States do if Ahmadinejad wins? Break off all negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and hurtle down the path towards regime change?

UPDATE: Hossein Derakhshan has a report on the dire mood in Iran among reformers, especially over the prospect of an Ahmadinejad victory. Also: "One good thing about an Ahmadinejad term could be that it would end the apathy among the youth born after the Iran-Iraq war."

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