Millions of Iranians turned out Friday to cast ballots in their presidential “election”. But the real contest there involved only two people: Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.
He had apparently decided long before Friday’s vote to throw his weight behind incumbent candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Friday evening he moved quite inappropriately fast to declare Ahmadinejad the winner.
Rafsanjani, who runs a number of well-funded business institutions and has often been accused of large-scale corruption, was backing Mir Husain Mousavi, who was declared a loser.
In the two weeks before the “election”, the candidates were able to engage in robust debate, including during televised sessions that by all accounts got pretty feisty. (I didn’t watch them, but some of my friends who did said that A-N did pretty well in them.) Khamene’i even intervened at one point to urge all the candidates to behave more decorously. But I guess he and the group of revolution-guarding “conservatives” around him became increasingly worried at the signs that Mousavi’s supporters were becoming ever bolder in their campaign activities.
We will probably never know the exact count of the millions of votes cast on Friday. It is possible that A-N won the “election” fair and square, as this recent opinion poll had indicated he would. It is possible he didn’t. But Khamene’i rapidly made clear that he didn’t really care how many voters put their X in which box.
My main prediction now is that Khamene’i and A-N will start some large attacks against the bases of Rafsanjani’s business empire, under the rubric of a “move against corruption.” They may well have been planning this campaign all along, and were hoping to gain a strong popular mandate for it from the presidential “election.”
Well, Khamene’i and A-N do have a lot of support in the country. But the country’s social liberals and that other (quite possibly overlapping) group of people who are participants/beneficiaries in Rafsanjani’s business empire so far seem pretty determined to fight back.
The regime has used a quite unacceptable level of violence to quell the recent demonstrations. Those demonstrations have not, themselves, been wholly nonviolent, though Mousavi has called for his supporters to remain nonviolent and it’s possible some of the green-masked individuals seen tossing rocks at the police have been agents provocateurs.
All that violence should stop.
The whole internal struggle over these issues inside Iran is considerably complicated by the fact that the US government has, even under Obama, been continuing the Bush-initiated program of giving support to dissidents and members of national minorities. That program should stop.
Today’s WaPo has, for once, a generally pretty sensible editorial on Iran. It says,
- [A]s a first step, the Obama administration should take care not to signal more respect for [the “election”‘s] results than they merit. Administration officials are right to be responding cautiously and to let the process play out. But there are principles that the administration could be defending even now, squarely supporting the rule of law and democratic expression in Iran…
President Obama has said, rightly, … that the West should explore all diplomatic possibilities before setting down a path of tightening sanctions or military action. That will remain true: The United States should be willing to talk about arms control and other areas of national interest with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and whoever else can speak for the nation’s foreign policy.
For those of us who are Americans, that last point is the main one we should focus on.
Update, 10:44 a.m.: A good Pepe Escobar explanation of what’s happening– from Tehran– is here. He also centers of the importance of the election debates, but says that A-N looked “deranged” in the one against Mousavi.
Added 2:22 p.m.:Very sensible words from the Leveretts: “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it.”
They mention the Mousavi’s “Rafsanjani problem”, and they include this important point:
- Ahmadinejad’s criticism that Mousavi’s reformist supporters, including Khatami, had been willing to suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program and had won nothing from the West for doing so tapped into popular support for the program — and had the added advantage of being true.