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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Mar 03rd
Iran’s Elections PDF Print E-mail
Written by Walid Phares   
Tuesday, 16 June 2009


A National Show Designed to Delay Democracy

Iran’s presidential elections are over and — as predicted by the unapologetic regime’s experts and the real opposition groups in exile — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the “pure son” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Pasdaran, wins, and wins big. For the connoisseurs in Khomeinist politics the win was a given from the beginning of the so-called Iranian presidential elections — there wouldn’t be any result that would contradict the principles upon which the “Islamic Republic” was founded. There was not a shred of doubt about the complete control the supreme ruler, Ali Khamenei, had on the process and the result.
As detailed by many specialists on the regime’s tentacles, the selection process of a “new” president for the “Republic” has multiple security mechanisms which ensure that the “elected” leader is in line with the Khomeinist ideology, platform, and long term goals.

First, no candidate opposing the “Islamist ideology” can be granted the authorization to run. The institutions regulating the elections are solidly in the hands of the ayatollahs. Hence, there is no pluralist process to begin with. Voters must select from those candidates “chosen” for them by the regime. Democracy dies in the first stage of the process, since citizens can only choose from one basket and candidates can only discuss what is permissible by the authorities. In short, Iran’s presidential elections are a charade, a show of colors and sounds, nothing more, nothing less. But international public opinion, particularly in the West, has seen images of “different” candidates, some labeled more moderate than others, and have seen large numbers of voters rushing to the polls in Iran. Weren’t the candidates really clashing over real differences? In fact, they were engaged in a “real” clash but not over “real” differences.

Here is why: In a well-orchestrated process which unfolds the ruling Mullahs’ scrutiny, four candidates have been selected by the Guardian Council — the supreme Islamist politbureau which sanctions all critical decisions in the country — to run for this election: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohsen Rezai, and Mehdi Karoubi. The first is the current president, a previous member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). The second was Iran’s prime minister during the war years of the 1980’s, under Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leader who advocated the nuclear weapons program. The third is a former chief of the Pasdaran, wanted by the Interpol for alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina. The fourth, a former speaker of the Parliament, was one of Khomeini’s activists who supported the fatwa to execute British novelist Salman Rushdie.

Thus the four candidates were all part of the regime and were his faithful sons running against each other to snatch the top office of the executive branch. Khamenei’s top elite throw these bones to the public every presidential cycle to have them choose the “best CEO” for the “Islamic Republic” but would never allow a candidate to argue against this “Khomeinist Imamate.” Thus the question here is why would a solid regime, with a powerful repressive Pasdaran, endowed with millions of petrodollars even allow this charade? Why the show and for whom? Here are the two reasons for this spring’s production:

Playing to the Domestic Audience

With the rise of political pluralism in the country’s larger “neighborhood” in the Middle East, pressure is growing in Iran from young people, women, labor unions, intellectuals and many other citizens to move towards democracy. Watching women being freely elected in Afghanistan after the Taliban, witnessing the rise of more than a hundred political parties in a multi-ethnic Iraq after the fall of Saddam, and watching the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon defeat the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in elections has led to an epiphany among regular folk living under the oppressive rule of the Mullahs. The longing for debates, the simple freedom to carry signs, scream the names of candidates out loud, and watch televised debates cannot be so easily contained, and the ruling elite of Tehran have realized this. Even Kuwait and Pakistan are producing slowly mutating democracies. “If you don’t give some room to breathe they will explode,” advised the regime’s architects about their country’s citizens. In addition, the question of ethnic minorities is already exploding: Arabs in Khusistan, Baluch in the East, Azeris in the Northwest and Kurds in the West are all in ebullition over obtaining autonomy. The regime organized this sumptuous feast of a presidential “election” as way to divert national attention from the real ethnic uprising taking place in many regions of the “Republic.” How ironic it is to conclude that the Iranian presidential elections have been initially organized as a national show to delay democracy, not to hasten it. How can the real domestic opposition, whose leaders and cadres are assassinated, pursued, exiled, tortured and jailed claim a lack of freedom if millions of Iranians have been “part” of an election? To preempt a full democracy, the regime plays a few of its tunes to the public, before it closes the gates on real change.

Performing for an International Audience

But the “show” had an international audience as well. Iran’s regime has been accused by many in the West, including the former Bush administration, of being “oppressive.” Even though the current Obama administration has dropped the word from its lexicon and calls Tehran’s totalitarian Ayatollahs with the name they prefer, “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” still the regime feels it needs to embellish its tarnished image. And, as the current U.S. administration and some European governments are gearing up for a sit-down with the Iranian rulers to eventually cut a “realistic” deal with them, it would be very helpful for Western liberal democracies to show their own public that they are indeed dealing with an emerging democracy in Iran. Hence, covering Iran’s elections as real and free suffrage with people actually “electing” a president will allow certain leaders in the West to move more comfortably in the direction of Khamanei’s Islamist republic. Hence, not only the multi -candidates’ (controlled) cacophony is good to numb democratic feelings inside Iran, but it is also good to numb criticism abroad and facilitates deals between diplomats and eventually businessmen.

However, a more ominous goal is smartly embedded in the charade. As the international community presses Iran’s regime on the nuclear crisis, electing a “new” president,  in fact “reelecting” the current president is an enormous boost delivered in the ideal international context. By the time countries all over the world prepare to strike back with bombs, missiles and counter missiles and more at the Tehran’s regime’s plan for installing a nuclear military systemm another powerful shield will have been added to the Khomeinist layers of defenses: the claim that Iran has a “democratically” elected president. Indeed, the power of just such an argument will resonate deeply in the West. With a global media astutely manipulated to cover a dynamic election in Iran, the political reality will be different: future Iranian propagandists and their operatives in the West will argue that democracies cannot disarm other democracies. One of the most dramatic consequences of framing this presidential election as “real” will be felt much later, when the time to deal with the nuclear armed regime in Iran comes.

An Unexpected Uprising

Unlike previous elections, this last one ended with violent demonstrations, rioting and civil unrest in Tehran and some other locations in the country. For the first time Western audiences were watching Iranian police and Pasdaran cracking down on demonstrators upset with the regime’s electoral fraud. Mousavi’s supporters rejected the results and filed an appeal against the election’s outcome. Observers wondered why thousands of his partisans took to the streets chanting against the “regime” as a whole.  In fact, this was an optical illusion: The massive demonstrations against Ahmadinejad were (and are) conducted by real opposition masses. Students, young people, men and women have been emulating the Tiananmen Square uprising, as well as Eastern Europe’s awakening against the Soviets and going beyond the electoral dispute. In reality, the people clashing with the regime’s militia aren’t solely Mousavi’s supporters. Most of them are anti-Khomeinist protesters who are seizing the opportunity of the election fraud to show the world how disenfranchised they are. They are a “third” group, the real underdogs. 

Thus the unexpected happened and the regime, which was hoping to produce an election and get away with its results, is now clamping down. As in other authoritarian regimes, the Khomeinists used the “counter-masses”, those members of the ruling party and its organizations to gather a super-demonstration “in support” of Ahmadinejad. By acting fast, the supreme rulers showed they are in control of their own people. Their propaganda machine and their allies worldwide rushed to prove that the Ahmadinejad supporters are greater in numbers, thus minimizing the uprisings by smaller groups of youth. Unless international solidarity builds quickly around the democracy movements on the streets, the Pasdarans will regain the streets again.

Once again, the Khomeinists have demonstrated their skills in taming their people, fooling the international public and outmaneuvering many Western chanceries. But this is only to delay an irreversible forthcoming real change. Time will tell when.

Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar with the European Foundation for Democracy. He is the author of “The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracv.”


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