January 25, 2008


Iran reformists threaten to boycott vote: They have appealed a hard-line council's disqualification of hundreds of candidates for parliament. (Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, January 25, 2008, LA Times)

Rejected candidates have until Sunday to file appeals with supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has been unsympathetic to the reformists' cause and refused to reverse disqualifications before the 2004 elections. A final list of candidates will be issued March 5.

Khamenei heads a theocratic Shiite Muslim state with elements of a democratic republic, including regular elections for parliament and the presidency. The political elite pride themselves on high voter turnout, and a boycott could harm the election's credibility. Iranian authorities have ruled out allowing international observers to monitor the election.

Iran's leadership is divided among several factions, including a hard-line conservative group around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a so-called pragmatic faction close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and a moderate wing represented by ex-President Mohammad Khatami.

Iran's constitution does not recognize political parties. But authorities regulate political groups and even fund some organizations loyal to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. These groups battle one another for power and influence through the parliament, although ultimate authority rests with Khamenei, a high-ranking cleric.

The 290-seat parliament, called the Majlis, has the power to propose and pass legislation and to act as a check on the president, as it did during Khatami's eight-year rule. Ahmadinejad usually manages to muster a majority in parliament for his policies. But a reformist swell in the March vote could challenge his socially conservative domestic program and ideologically charged international policies, which many compare to those of the early years of the revolution.

The president's allies fared poorly in municipal elections in 2006, and hard-liners have sharpened their rhetoric against liberals, accusing them of being dupes of Washington. "America supports every group that operates within its interests," the conservative daily Siasat-e-Rooz said in an editorial. "Since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, America supported the reformists and the question is, 'Why?' "

But Ahmadinejad also faces a mounting challenge from within the right.

Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the parliament speaker, recently publicly took issue with the president in a dispute over the budget and constitution.

Actually, Ayatollah Khamenei personally intervened in 2005 and forced the councils to allow Mostafa Moin to run for president, so that there would be a Reformist alternative to the ayatollahs' chosen candidate, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Expect a similar intervention here to permit a broader selection.

But recall that Khamenei, the Reformists, and the Bush Administration all miscalculated at that earlier point. The Ayatollah didn't understand how disaffected the Reform movement was from electoral politics, how unpopular Rafsanjani remained as a result of his earlier term in office, and how assiduously hard-liners were working to put Ahmedinejad in office. The Reformists miscalculated the degree to which a boycott could prove disastrous, as the relatively moderate Rafsanjani lost to the lunatic Ahmedinejad. And the Administration miscalculated when it called for that boycott, not understanding that the election results do matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2008 9:25 AM

So despite the fact that Khamenei keeps disqualifying reformist candidates, do you think he actually supports the reformists? I'm wondering what happens to your Iranian political analysis if Ahmedinejad wins re-election.

Posted by: Brandon at January 25, 2008 10:45 AM

And the boycott worked so well the last time, why not threaten with it again.

Posted by: Genecis at January 25, 2008 11:13 AM

Nothing in Iran will change until someone whose name is not on Khameini's list takes over. But the regime is dependent on a closed process.

The mullahs and the Guardians and the Majlis are creeping totalitarians - imagine how oppressive Iran would be had Khomeini been 15 years younger.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 25, 2008 12:05 PM

Of course an alternative is that there's not a fig's difference between Khamenei and any of the candidates he selects, no matter what party they claim to be a part of, and that we're being duped with ye olde "it's not the king but his ministers who are the problem."

Just a thought.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 25, 2008 12:09 PM

But JIC, nowhere in the Middle East is there a unity of purpose between the conservatives and the radicals that is anything more than temporary.

Just because you think they both offer oppression doesn't mean they are the same or a threat to the US...

Posted by: Benny at January 25, 2008 3:33 PM

I don't think, Benny, that there's unity of purpose in Iran between rads and cons.

In fact I do think as oj does that Iran is ripe for a massive change, and that engagement by the US, especially our talking over the heads of the mullahs and gvt, is perhaps essential to that.

What I'm suggesting though is that Khamenei could well be playing a game with us. It's not necessarily the case that those whom the mullahs allow to run for high office are legitimate rads/cons/whatever.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 25, 2008 4:28 PM

That's counterfactual. Khamenei has made Iran far less oppressive and is the driving force for economic reform. He biffed and stuck himself with a president who opposes that reform. He'll correct the error.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2008 7:19 PM

Conservatives want to preserve the Revolution and its Republic. The radicals think the 12th is nigh.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2008 8:32 PM

Boycotts just make it easier for the side that's still in to steal the election. Ask the MDC in Zim-bob-we.

Unlike OJ, I see Khamenei and Ahmedinejad as two sides of the same ugly coin. It isn't like either of them are democrats. Khamenei just wants power on his terms. He's just another thug. GWB should have gone over both their heads to the people back in 2003.

Posted by: Steve White at January 25, 2008 11:33 PM

That's dogma, not reality. Iran is democratic.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2008 7:56 AM

Iran is democratic, just like the old joke about the inmates getting a change of their underwear - "Smith, you change with Jones; Johnson, you change with Thomas;....."

Nothing in Iran will change until some fresh cotton is put on a national ballot. But the Guardians will only offer the old soiled underwear, because real change is too....democratic.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 26, 2008 8:27 AM