Day By Day

Monday, June 27, 2005

Explaining the Iranian Elections

A standard explanation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's unexpected victory in the Iranian elections is beginning to emerge in the MSM. Essentially it goes like this:

1) Various "reform" regimes in the past have represented the interests of the affluent, westernizing, secular elites, but because of the influence of clerical authorities have been unable to fulfill their promises of meaningful reform.

2) Because of their ineffectiveness, affluent, educated Iranians have lost faith in the reformers and have withdrawn from the political process.

3) Because the reformers have generally ignored the interests of Iran's poor and pious Muslims they are generally disliked by most Iranians.

4) Ahmadinejad won not because he was a religious hardliner, but because he was widely seen as a man of the people and his opponents represented elites.

As the NYT put it:

Mr. Ahmadinejad... emphasized his piety and independence, insisting that he did not represent any political party but was a man of the people. His core supporters, the ultrareligious, spoke of him with reverence, as though he were a religious figure and not a politician. It was his everyman posture, compared to the regal style of Mr. Rafsanjani, that won many people over. On election day, Mr. Ahmadinejad waited with average citizens before casting his vote.

"All through my life I have never seen a presidential candidate standing in a queue like ordinary people," said Seyed Mohammad Shekarabi, 75, who broke into tears when he saw Mr. Ahmadinejad take his place in the line.

It was Mr. Rafsanjani whom voters perceived as the embodiment of a system they have grown to distrust. A former president and cleric, who has become a very wealthy businessman, Mr. Rafsanjani carried himself as royalty during the campaign, never taking to the streets, and never seeming to understand that his history as an elder statesman of the republic was viewed as a liability, not an asset.

Read it here.

Rasfanjani has a different view of the matter. He charges that there was massive interference in the electoral process:

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized ``organized and illegal'' interference in the June 24 presidential election won by his rival, Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's victory in the election gives backers of the Islamic revolution full power over state institutions in Iran, holder of the world's second-largest oil and gas reserves. The U.S. also expressed ``concerns'' about the fairness of the election in a statement yesterday.

Read about it here.

Thus is a disturbing assertion of power by hard-line radical Muslims reshaped in the MSM into a comforting assertion of the need for simple "social justice."The ideology of America's secular elites is impenetrable to evidence.

Amir Taheri, writing in the Australian, points out the implications of Ahmadinejad's election.

Ahmadinejad's victory means that Khamenehi, who has established himself as head of the most radical faction within the Khomeinist establishment, now controls all levers of power for the first time. He will now be able to put his own men in charge of all key government departments. Any idea of Western-style reforms to please the restive middle classes will be abandoned.

The concentration of power in the hands of the radical faction will end more than two decades of divided government that has put many aspects of policy on autopilot as it were. Two years ago when King Abdullah II of Jordan telephoned Khatami to complain about Iran setting up terrorist cells in Amman, the Iranian president was able to claim that he knew nothing of it because he did not control all organs of government.

The Europeans who have been negotiating with Tehran over the nuclear issue have also heard similar claims from Iranian counterparts. With Ahmadinejad in charge, however, such claims will no longer be credible because the camarilla headed by Khamenehi is now in complete control. Rafsanjani had promised the Chinese model - meaning the combination of a despotic political regime with capitalist economic policies. Ahmadinejad promises a North Korean model - that is to say a totalitarian system and a command economy.

Ahmadinejad's election shows that the Khomeinist regime cannot be reformed from within. It also shows that there is still a strong constituency in Iran for the populist message of the ayatollah. True, far fewer people voted than the regime claims. But those who did vote preferred Ahmadinejad's "pure Islam" to Rafsanjani's attempt at perpetuating the myth that Iran today is, in the words of the former US president Bill Clinton, "a progressist democracy".

Ahmadinejad describes himself as a fundamentalist, has no qualms about asserting that there can be no democracy in Islam, rejects free-market economics, and insists on "religious duties" rather than human rights.


Ahmadinejad's victory reveals the true face of the Islamic Republic as a regional power with its own world vision that challenges the so-called "global consensus". It reminds the world that the mini-Cold War that started between the Islamic Republic and the West, notably the US, is far from over.

Read it here.

So much for the liberal consensus on Islamic radicalism. Ahmadinejad does not represent "everyman," nor is he a proponent of social justice as the term is understood in the West. He is a repudiation of everything the NYT stands for. It is long past time for the editors at the Gray Lady to wake up and realize it.

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