December 19, 2006


Thumbs Down for Iran's Hardliners: Iranians seem to have been left cold by the hard-line rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In elections last Friday, moderate candidates did well. But will that change the direction of Tehran's foreign policy? (Der Spiegel, 12/19/06)

The hardliners in Iran have suffered a major setback at the hands of the Iranian electorate. A combination of a high turnout and close cooperation between the reformists and moderate conservatives succeeded in giving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a bit of a bloody nose at the ballot box. Partial results from last Friday's elections for local governments and the powerful Assembly of Experts indicate that the president's supporters have been widely rejected by the voters.

The Assembly of Experts is a body of 86 clerics who monitor Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor, and as such it has great influence in the theocratic state. Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a relative moderate, polled the most votes of any Tehran candidate to secure a seat on the assembly. In contrast, the hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who is regarded as President Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, only came in sixth in the poll.

In the local elections the president's allies failed to win control of any of the councils. And not a single candidate supported by Ahmadinejad won a council seat in the big cities of Shiraz, Bandar Abbas or Rasht. In Tehran candidates supporting the moderate conservative mayor, Mohammed Bahger Qalibaf, look set to win seven of the 15 council seats.

The largest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, welcomed the results. "Ahmadinejad's list has suffered a decisive defeat nationwide," it announced. "It is a big no to the government's authoritarian and inefficient practices."

The Reformers Are Back: The vote in Iran for local posts and for the Assembly of Experts was the first ballot-box test for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He did not receive high marks. (Omid Nouripour, 12/19/06, SPIEGEL ONLINE)
The elections this weekend, then, were Ahmadinejad's first true progress report as president. He was hoping to derive political capital from the global attention he reaped as a result of the conference, with the objective of strengthening his power base in the election. But the results so far suggest that he may have been unsuccessful.

Ahmadinejad's archrival, Rafsanjani, had little difficulty in being re-elected to the Assembly of Experts, one of the most important bodies in the Islamic Republic. The Assembly appoints and monitors the revolutionary leader and reviews the ideological suitability of candidates for the office of president. And Rafsanjani received more votes than any other Tehran candidate.

Even more indicative than the personal rivalry between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, though, is the fact that Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative, ran as part of a reform alliance. Reformers in Iran had all but given up after the fall of former President Mohammed Ali Khatami. But Ahmadinejad has been a radically polarizing figure inside of Iran as well as abroad. The success of the reformers in the vote over the weekend comes as a direct result of Ahmadinejad's radical course.

Restoring the reformers faith that their votes are meaningful is catastrophic for the whackos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2006 11:11 AM

As long as they shout/believe "Death To America and Israel," they're all hardliners.

Posted by: Sandy P at December 19, 2006 11:43 AM

I echo Sandy's comment - if they are let on the ballot they're all whackos.

Posted by: BJW at December 19, 2006 1:49 PM

And Rafsanjani is one.

Posted by: Sandy P at December 19, 2006 3:05 PM

That's just political fodder, like being a segregationist used to be here.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2006 4:34 PM

Shouting "Death to America" and believing it is two very different things. This is not the glory years of the Islamic Revolution when the two meant the same thing. All my friends who once lived in these type of dictator states all say the same thing - those huge crowds shouting "Death to America" come out only when the government tells the people to do it.

OJ is right that this is a good thing. The only question is whether the change happens fast enough to prevent a confrontation on the nuclear issue. I fear it may not.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 19, 2006 6:56 PM

There are several undercurrents here - one, it is a good thing that Ahmadinejad has been 'rebuked' by the vote. Imagine if his mentor had been the leading vote-getter; it would be like watching the whole nation march off a cliff.

Two, turnout was probably not as high as the European articles indicate - the Iranian websites I have read seem to think about 5+ million plus Iranians voted, which is less than the Iraqi elections.

Three, it is sad (but understandable) that so many yearn to believe in "reformers", and that Khatami is venerated for his nice smile. But did he do anything else to 'reform' Iran? No. And does Rafsanjani even have a nice smile? Not to my knowledge. So why compare the two? We don't even know if he can be the enemy of my enemy (Ahmadinejad or Khameini - take your pick).

Four, the media seems to believe that Ahmadinejad will have to modify his course. History shows us decisively that men like him will do no such thing. Remember, the Nazi party polled weaker in the final election than in the previous one. Mugabe, Chavez, Castro, Slobo, Ceacescou, and worse never modified their 'policies' in the face of setbacks, now did they?

Fifth, what evidence do we have that Rafsanjani will abandon Iran's nuclear quest? Or its network of global terror? None.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 20, 2006 12:50 AM

Khamenei. That's the point.

Posted by: oj at December 20, 2006 8:29 AM