Iranians voted on Friday for local councils and a powerful clerical body in the first electoral test for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies since he swept to office in 2005.
The votes for municipal councilors and members of the Assembly of Experts, in theory Iran’s most powerful institution, will show if the president’s rivals are regaining popularity even if the results have no direct impact on policy.
Forecasting results in the Islamic Republic is hampered by a lack of reliable opinion polls but several voters in Tehran said they would back candidates close to the president.
Ahmadinejad may not have much to worry about:
Iran’s reform movement, defeated in 2003 council polls and subsequent parliamentary and presidential races, is trying to make a comeback but, by its own admission, does not expect to make sweeping gains.
The text message campaign must not have worked
In a flurry of last-minute mobile text messages from rival camps, campaigning ended in Iran before Friday’s elections that will be the first popularity test for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since he won the presidency last year.
“Let us show our unity again. Vote for Ahmadinejad’s backers who want to rebuild Tehran,” said one text message, urging voters to turn out for the Tehran City Council race, a key battleground in the nationwide race for city and rural councils.
The process is not quite as democratic as it would appear:
As far as being a display of popular sovereignty, elections are meaningless under the mullahs’ rule. The clerical establishment is built on the anti-democratic doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih, the absolute rule of clerics. All institutions of power in Iran such as the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, and the Parliament, provide a veneer of democracy for Velayat-e Faqih’s tyranny and safeguard the pillars of the theocracy. Iran’s system of governance is structurally and intrinsically incapable of democratic change and its elections are at the service of solidifying the religious fascism and therefore it is a travesty of the democratic process.
Nevertheless, the Friday election is significant, since it provides Iran’s democratic opposition with an opportunity to mobilize Iranians to say “No” to the regime by boycotting the elections. No wonder the mullahs’ primary goal in this election has been beg people to come out and vote.
Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan believes that Ahmadinejad is shrewdly consolidating power:
Whatever the reason, this conference is a sign that Ahmadinejad is consolidating his power inside the system gradually, carefully and quite intelligently. This is very alarming.
This is basically his style: Using Khomeinist ideological talking points to disarm the traditionalist conservatives and the Khomeinist reformers and consolidate policy- making power in areas he has not much control on, such as nuclear negotioations, foreign affairs, oil, intelligence, etc.
But IRNA does have some good news:
Head of the Association of Jews in Shiraz Manouchehr Bamdad said on Friday that Jews will like all the Iranian citizens take part in the Experts Assembly and Islamic City/Village Council elections as well as Majlis by-elections on Friday.
Nothing establishes moral superiority like election-eve “Jews allowed to vote” headlines. Very impressive Iran. You are obviously champions of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties. You must be doing something right if both David Duke and John Kerry want to hang out with you:
U.S. Senator John Kerry said on Friday he was willing to go to Tehran to talk to Iranian leaders but would not have time during his current Middle East tour. “I don’t have time and we were not able to make arrangements in the short timespan we had but I would be willing to go,” he told reporters in Cairo, the first stop on his tour.
Can he be talked into staying?