How Ahmadinejad’s Victory Could Actually Bolster Iranian Democracy
After months of constant campaigning between incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the results of the Iranian presidential election appear to be in. Despite the millions of young Iranians pledging their devoted support for the reformist challenger, the Islamic Republic’s conservative president has won a landslide victory over the moderate establishment. In fact, Iran’s state-run news agency concludes that Ahmadinejad has prevailed with a resounding 2-to-1 margin over Mousavi’s campaign: a detrimental blow to Tehran’s educated elite who often brand the anti-western president as both embarrassing and incompetent.
Unfortunately, the re-election of Ahmadinejad and the resurgence of Iran’s clerical base is only a small part of the country’s looming desperation. What is more alarming to the international community is the apparent fraud that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed when the ballots were cast and eventually counted. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said it best: “I don’t think anyone anticipated this level of fraudulence…this was a selection, not an election.” Indeed, the fact that President Ahmadinejad carried close to 66 percent of the popular vote only confirms this disbelief. With so many Iranian citizens citing Mahmoud’s belligerent rhetoric and destructive handling of the national economy, how can this high figure possibly reflect the will of the Iranian electorate?
Certainly, the clerical regime’s ordering of mass fraud at the polls and the imprisonment of protesters in Tehran’s streets are a cause for concern throughout the international community. This is especially the case given that an Ahmadinejad re-election may further complicate the already tense relations between the west and the Islamic Republic (not to mention relations in the Middle Eastern region between Iran and its Arab neighbors). Yet, as young Iranians continue to voice their frustration through demonstrations and looting, this election creates an opportunity that many moderates inside the country may soon recognize. The formation of a new era in Iranian politics is fast approaching.
A widespread popular movement against the oppressive rule of Ayatollah Khamenei may very well strengthen throughout Iran itself. In particular, a feeling of anger is quickly expanding in a way that Tehran’s theocracy has yet to experience in their 30-year rule. Small businessmen/women, professors, academics, and even some officials within the Republic’s bureaucracy are beginning to question the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader. Should the constitution be changed in a way that would curtail the powers of the Ayatollah? Is it time for Iran’s moderate candidates to unite and publicly undermine the very tenants of Islamic Government? Is the democratic movement picking up steam? These are the questions that will inevitably be asked in the days and months ahead: the same questions that may generate a diverse anti-Khamenei coalition with the firm backing of ordinary voters.
These predictions may simply be personal beliefs of an optimistic American democrat. Or if these predictions come to fruition, they may be crushed by a wave of government-sponsored coercion aimed at protecting the current Iranian power structure (we have seen this use of force practiced many times in the past). Indeed, a popular overthrow of Iran’s religious autocracy seems impractical, if not downright irrational, to many scholars of Iranian politics. However, the unrest that is currently being unleashed within Tehran’s many neighborhoods lends certain credence to this view. Yes, Ahmadinejad may have won a massive victory in the face of numerous challenges. But the scenes on the ground point to a much different perspective: the public is sick and tired of the Ayatollah’s illegitimate behavior. Couple this with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s (the head of the Council of Experts) apparent anger towards the corrupt-ridden electoral system and it may be safe to conclude that the strings of democracy within Iran have captured more and more supporters. Ironically, Khamenei may have dug his own grave and the graves of his religious backers.
As is long due, people that have supported the regime’s principles may slowly discover its central motive: suppressing the interests of the majority in order to protect the power of the few. So far, the mass resentment among Tehran’s students and scholars is a welcoming sign.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy Magazine contributed to this blog