December 15, 2006


Iran vote seen as referendum on Ahmadinejad: President criticized for failed promises (Anne Barnard, December 15, 2006, Boston Globe)

Nineteen months after an upset election victory catapulted him to a controversial role on the world stage, firebrand Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing criticism from both the left and right, much of it from Iranians who believe he hasn't delivered on his populist economic promises.

In national elections today, many Iranians view the vote as a referendum on Ahmadinejad's performance. City council races nationwide focus on who can do more to improve people's daily lives, with some candidates vowing to accomplish what they say the president has failed to do. And candidates for a key national assembly of Muslim clergy are clashing over how much power Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, should wield.

But at both the local and national levels, the races pit supporters of Ahmadinejad against members of the reformist movement, which pushes for democratization within Iran's Islamic government. And in some cases, traditional conservatives have banded together with reformists to oppose Ahmadinejad allies. [...]

Even more dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad are young, urban, middle-class Iranians. They are the backbone of reformist support, and many sat out presidential elections last year to register their disillusion with the system. That decision helped bring Ahmadinejad to power.

Now, the reformists are trying to make a comeback, focusing on getting out the vote and reminding voters of the liberalization they enjoyed under Khatami, who was president from 1997 to 2005.

"We are the companions of Khatami," reads a yellow campaign poster for reformist candidates in Isfahan, about 240 miles southwest of Tehran.

The city of 1.5 million is part of Iran's conservative heartland, but many young people here said Ahmadinejad's tenure had emboldened vigilante groups who patrol the streets to enforce strict Islamic order, making it harder for young men and women to socialize, without delivering the economic improvements he promised.

"It was a mistake not to vote last time," said Mohammad Paknegad, 24, a Khatami supporter who is studying English and who works nights as a cashier in a tea shop under the Si-o-Seh Bridge, where the Zayandeh river rushes between tables of young men smoking waterpipes beneath the narrow arches. "Things got worse."

We were too slow to get our act together this time --after counter-productively encouraging a reformist boycott last time -- but hopefully by the next presidential we'll have figured out that getting folks to the polls dooms the whackos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2006 1:46 PM

Well, Khatami certainly turned out to be quite the reformer, didn't he?

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 15, 2006 2:47 PM

Yes, that's the part Khamenei had to learn and which low turnout taught him.

Posted by: oj at December 15, 2006 2:56 PM

"getting folks to the polls dooms the whackos" Corollary:getting whackos not to the polls dooms the stupid party.

Posted by: ic at December 15, 2006 4:42 PM

The best that can be said of Khatami is that he was the James Buchanan of Iranian politics.

Posted by: ratbert at December 15, 2006 8:29 PM

More the George H. W. Bush. Well-intentioned but restrained by the political reality of the establishment.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2006 8:20 AM

Khatami was a sop to the West and the UN. Any Persian will tell you things got worse after he was elected, especially after the students realized that he was nothing but a front man for Khameini. More newspapers were closed and more people disappeared after Khatami than prior. He was window dressing, nothing more.

Had a 'reformer' won in 2005, it would have been more of the same. In a way, the election of Ahmadinejad has done us a favor - it forced the truth about Iran to the fore. The ugliness is there for all to see. And there are layers yet to be uncovered.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 16, 2006 10:14 AM