Friday, February 06, 2004


Right now, I have more questions than answers about what's going on in Iran. Not surprisingly,
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has insisted parliamentary elections due later this month should go ahead as planned. ...

He said the 20 February polls would not be "delayed by even one day" and warned against "un-Islamic" protests. ...

[H]e also warned reformists not to advance their case too far by threatening to resign over the election dispute.

"Evading responsibility by resigning or any other method is illegal and religiously forbidden", he said.
This last remark was evidently aimed at the provincial governors who have threatened to resign [scroll down to the entry for January 29] rather than oversee a fraudulent election. The message appears to be "not only will we fix the election, but you are required to help us in carrying out the plan."

The thing is, if the Guardian Council had followed Khamenei's recommendation that anyone who had previously been found qualified to be a candidate should be regarded as still qualified, a lot of this might well have been avoided: The members of parliament on the exclusion list would have been reinstated along with a number of others and that might have been enough.

But it didn't. In fact, it seemed to ignore the advice of their "supreme leader" altogether. And Khamenei hasn't pressed the issue; indeed, for the most part he's stayed away from it, at least publicly. So was the whole thing just a setup, with Khamenei playing the role of above-it-all George Bush with the Council as Ed Gillespie, the attack dog actually carrying out the leader's wishes? Or has perhaps the relationship between Khamenei and the Council become more like George Bush and Karl Rove, with the latter really running the show, public appearances to the contrary?

Certainly, the hardliners smell victory, expecting their machinations will result in a hardline parliament and re-taking the executive when President Mohammad Khatami steps down. The question is, at what price? Even they have grown weary of Iran's relative isolation and an election that is too obviously fixed won't help end that condition. Which may be why
there are now signs of a compromise, with the Council expected to announce that many of those barred from the election race may now run.
It had been suggested before that the Council might lift many of the bans in a second round of appeals thus giving legitimacy to the election while denying reformers time to effectively campaign. This "compromise" may prove to be pretty much exactly that. Which is why
[i]t is not clear if the deal will be enough to satisfy reformist MPs.

They have insisted that not only should all the bans be overturned but also that the vote should be postponed to give all candidates enough time to conduct their campaigns.
Khamenei seems to have closed the door on that last point. So the reformers now have to decide how hard they're going to push. Assuming the "compromise" is as suggested, do they take it and make the best of it, knowing the overall outcome is all but predetermined? Or do they reject it, take the elections down, and risk not only the backlash at home but of undermining the reform movement by allowing themselves (and not the hardliners) to be portrayed as the inflexible ones?

I don't feel I'm in any position to offer advice: I'm not subject to the risks they take by either choice. But since the chance that this will be read by anyone involved is, on a scale of 1 to 10, about minus 6, I'll dare to say that the reformers have only gotten as much out of the Council as they have by being rigid in defense of principle, not by being "reasonable." I believe that acquiescing in a sham election, at a time when their supporters among the public are already feeling discouraged, is political suicide. I don't mean for them as candidates, I mean for the idea of reform. As an observer, not a participant, it's absurdly easy for me to say "risk it all." And I know that the vision of political chaos and even open conflict that could follow mass resignations and a refusal to conduct the elections is enough to give anyone but the truly bloodthirsty pause. I would blame no one for avoiding that course. It's just that I believe that in this case the path of greater risk is also the path of greater hope.

My most recent previous post on this is here.

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