Elections in Iran, whether local, parliamentary or presidential, are never dull but this year’s presidential elections are beginning to take on a decidedly more exciting tone. In addition to the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, being in the race, two other leading figures have indicated they will contest the polls: Ayatullah Mehdi Karoubi, and Mir Husain Mousavi. A third candidate, Mohammad Khatami, a former president, withdrew from the race once Mousavi announced he would run. Ayatullah Karoubi had served as Majlis speaker and in the 1980s,he was the Imam’s representative for Hajj as well as head of the Bunyad-e Shaheed (Martyrs’ Foundation). Mousavi was the prime minister of Iran during the difficult years from 1981 to 1988 when the country was at war with Iraq. He is best remembered as the person who steered the country out of its most difficult economic period during the war years. But his major handicap is that he has been out of the media limelight for 20 years and most Iranians — 65 percent are under the age of 30 — do not know much about his record.
The June 12 presidential elections will be Iran’s tenth for the office of president. Altogether Iran has had 31 elections since the victory of the Islamic revolution in February 1979. Ahmedi-nejad’s populist style and his bold stand against the Zionist State of Israel as well as the US have endeared him to Muslims worldwide. While he is extremely popular for his austere lifestyle at home and his care for the poor, some have criticised him for not managing the economy well. Faced with economic sanctions and a hostile US government, most particularly former president George Bush’s regime, Iran has had to face numerous difficulties. Many of its banks have been blocked from carrying out international transactions and its trading opportunities have been severely curtailed. Iran managed to ride such restrictions, thanks to the unexpectedly high oil prices that at one time had touched $140 per barrel last year. Thereafter, the slide began and now the price hovers around $40-$46 per barrel. Such wild fluctuations have naturally had a negative effect on Iran’s economy that is virtually entirely de-pendent on oil revenues. Even so, the Majlis passed a $279 billion budget last month for the next fiscal year that started on March 21.
There are no political parties in Iran; groups or factions sharing similar outlook on issues compete against others. For instance, President Ahmedinejad belongs to the group called Oosool-gayaran (Principalists) camp while Ayatullah Karoubi is chairman of the Etemad-e Melli (National Confidence) camp. Mousavi and Khatami belong to the same camp of what is commonly known as the “reformists”. Even within this camp, there are nuances. For instance, Etemad-e Melli is close to the reformists yet they are competing against each other. Khatami’s withdrawal from the race will help Mousavi but the vote will still be split between him and Karoubi. Further, Gholamhussein Karbaschi, a former mayor of Tehran and Khatami supporter who was jailed on corruption charges during Khatami’s tenure as president, threw his weight behind Karoubi. Karbaschi said Khatami had been president before and was unable to deliver. Other candidates may yet jump into the race; they must register this month to be able to run.
Thirty years after the Islamic revolution that overthrew the corrupt, US-propped monarchy of the Shah, the Islamic Republic has emerged as the most important regional player despite unrelenting hostility of the West led by the US and most Arab regimes. Iran’s two neighbouring enemies — Ba‘athist Iraq under the dictator Saddam Husain, and Taliban in Afghanistan — were eliminated by the US that had earlier supported both. The US aim was not to help the Islamic Republic; in fact, Washington warmongers had planned to march on Tehran from there but the resistance in both countries put paid to these grandiose plans. Today the US faces such serious difficulties in both theatres that it wants Iran to bail it out.
The Islamic Republic and the next president will face two major challenges: economy at home and threats from the US-zionist duopoly abroad. Iran has a rapidly growing population, 65 percent of whom are under the age of 30. Because of economic sanctions, Iran faces serious unemployment and inflation problems but these have been dealt with in a manner that has limited their impact on the downtrodden. This is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Islamic Revolution. The austere life-style of its leaders, starting with the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Khamenei, has earned the trust and respect of the people. It is also the sincerity and wisdom of the leadership that has retained the trust of most people even in such difficult circumstances.
Most other rulers would have long buckled under the kind of pressure exerted by the US on Iran but the Islamic leadership in Tehran is made of different material. They are not there for personal or material gains; guided by strong faith and motivated by a desire to serve the people that they consider their Islamic obligation, Iran’s leaders have set a great example of the kind of muttaqi leaders the Muslim world needs. There was a period of time when the revolutionary zeal slackened under the “reformist” agenda of Khatami. This gave rise to the Oosoolgayaran (the Principalists), a group that insists Iran’s policies must be firmly rooted in the teachings of Islam. The relentless hostility shown by the US merely strengthened the resolve of the leadership and people of Iran. Their adherence to Islamic principles has strengthened this resolve and Allah’s mercy and help have been evident in the manner in which Iranhas withstood all these pressures.
If the George Bush years were a nightmare not only for Iran but also for most Americans, Barack Obama’s presidency has yet to break loose from the domineering attitude of his predecessor. Obama seems to be speaking from both sides of his mouth simultaneously. While he has said that “in the coming months we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them [Iranian officials],” at the same time he and his officials have also made quite provocative statements. For instant, when Obama said that he would like to talk to Iran “without preconditions”, his UN representative Susan Rice, a close confidant of his, said Iran would have to give up uranium enrichment, stop its support of groups the US considers to be terrorist organizations (Hizbullah and Hamas) and not undermine peace efforts in the Middle East (Israeli domination of the Middle East). Clearly, the Americans must speak a different kind of English; without preconditions means just that, but when Rice lists a whole series of actions Iran must take before there will be dialogue, she is setting precondition.
Even so, President Ahmedinejad has welcomed the opening of a dialogue. Addressing a massive rally on February 10 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, he said Tehranwas ready for “talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.” At the same time, he pointed out that “change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes.” Ahmedi-nejad also called for putting former US president George Bush on trial for war crimes because of his policies and actions in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. To get a better understanding of what the Iranian president was saying, one needs to remember the more than one million Iraqis murdered since the US “liberated” them from the clutches of the tyrant Saddam; the horrendous crimes of torture, murder and rape at Abu Ghraib, the virtual destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure leaving it paralyzed for decades and similar crimes perpetrated by the Zionists in Palestine, especially in Ghazzah, are all attributable to the policies of Bush. Regrettably, Obama is following many of the same policies. That is why Ahmedinejad said Iran wanted to see “fundamental change, not mere tactical change.”
Referring to the US policy of fighting terrorism, Ahmedinejad said Iran could cooperate with the US to uproot terrorism in the region. “The Iranian people are the biggest victims of terrorism,” he pointed out. While he did not spell it out in so many words, but the US has and continues to support the terrorist group, Mujahideen-e Khalq Organi-zation (MKO) that is responsible for assassinating more than 1,200 leading figures of the revolution. Zeroing in on the real perpetrators of terrorism, Ahmedinejad said: “If you really want to uproot terrorism, let us cooperate to find the initiators of the recent wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region; try them and punish them.”
Even while talking about dialogue and asking Iran to “unclench its fist”, the Americans continue to talk the language of force. Speaking at a Nato conference in Munich, Germany, US Vice President Joe Biden said on March 7 that the US was prepared to talk to Iran but if it continued with its nuclear program and support for terrorist groups, it would face sanctions and isolation and that the military option was not ruled out if diplomacy failed. This, as the Rahbar, Imam Khamenei, pointed out, was the same “wrong path” that Bush had pursued, including extending unquestioning support to the Zionist entity that had created so much hatred for the US globally. Major-General Hassan Firouzabadi, a top Iranian military commander, said that the new US administration [of Barack Obama] was just as “warmongering” as its predecessor. “We cannot claim that the [US] Democrats are not warmongering like the Republicans. They are just as warmongering and mischievous, and they would like to do that [attack Iran],” he said. “But they are unable to do that and there is no way to stage an attack against Iran.America is not able to incur the cost of attacking Iran,” he was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.
Whosoever is elected president in June — and present opinion is that Ahmedinejad will retain his position —will have to address the mischievous nature of the US. This is one front the leadership in Iran cannot ignore.