December 9, 2006


Ahmadinejad May Be Heading for His First Major Political Defeat (Amir Taheri, 12/09/06, Arab News)

While trying to project his image as a world leader offering an alternative to "American hegemony", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran may be heading for his first major political defeat at home. In fact, some analysts in Tehran expect his defeat to be so decisive as to puncture the super-inflated image created by his friends and foes, albeit for different reasons.

It is in the context of two sets of elections, to be held on Dec. 15, that Ahmadinejad's defeat is expected to materialize.

The first election will be for local government authorities throughout Iran, deciding the fate of thousands of village and town councils that provide the day-to-day interface of the Khomeinist regime with citizens.

At present, the various radical Khomeinist factions that supported Ahmadinejad in the last presidential election control only a third of all local government authorities. The more conservative and business-connected factions, led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, control a further 25 percent while the rest have majorities of independents and/or regional groupings that are always open to new alliances.

Ahmadinejad had hoped to win a majority of the local government authorities for two reasons. First, he counted on a low turnout that always favors the more radical Khomeinist candidates. Four years ago, Ahmadinejad won control of the Tehran Municipal Council, the largest local government in Iran, and became mayor of the capital, in an election that attracted only 15 percent of the qualified voters.

The second reason that Ahmadinejad had in mind was the possibility of forging a broad alliance of all radical revolutionary factions while the more conservative groups led by Rafsanjani and former Majlis Speaker Ayatollah Mahdi Karrubi appeared unable to unite.

With just days before polling, however, both of Ahmadinejad's calculations appear in doubt. The conservative and moderate groups have abandoned an earlier strategy to boycott the election and presented lists of candidates in more than half of the constituencies. The opposition groups acting outside the regime have also toned down their calls for boycott. Thus, the turnout may be higher than Ahmadinejad had hoped. A higher turnout could mean more middle class voters going to the polls to counterbalance the peasants and the urban poor who constitute the president's electoral base. [...]

The second election that Ahmadinejad had hoped to win but is now likely to lose is even more important. This is for the so-called Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 theologians who have the task of choosing and, when and if needed, dismissing the " Supreme Guide".

Initially, Ahmadinejad's ambition appeared to be directed at winning a majority of the assembly thus holding a Damocles sword above the head of the incumbent "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi. Some had even suggested that an assembly controlled by the president's supporters would force Khamenehi to resign on health grounds, appointing Ayatollah Muhamad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's theological guru, as "Supreme Guide".

Ahmadinejad only became president in the first place because Ayatollah Khamenei, accidentally, and we, intentionally, held down turnout and the reformist majority stayed home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 9, 2006 7:16 PM

Excellent summary of the "inside politics" angle of the Iranian elections coming up.

Posted by: paleodude at December 9, 2006 8:21 PM

"majority stayed home" A stupid tactic that was often repeated by stupid people.

Posted by: ic at December 9, 2006 8:30 PM

Repeat after me: "Iran is a democracy, Iran is a democracy..., Iran is a democracy, Iran is a democracy...."

Now, let's start again.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 10, 2006 2:52 AM

Most Americans stay home, but our elections don't matter. The problem in Iran is that Khamenei disheartened reformers by reining in Khatami too closely and America encouraged them to boycott. Ahmadenijad's presidency is a product of his enemies.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2006 8:34 AM

It's a good thing all of you know more about Iran than any one else.

I'm heartened by the fact that everything is fine and that soon, an Iranian reformer will take power, smash radical Islam (both Sunni & Shiite) and usher in a new world of freedom oriented governments.

Why, I can't even see a negative scenario on the Horizon anymore.


Posted by: Bruno at December 10, 2006 12:58 PM