... and another
London, Jun. 21 - A 49-year-old former commander in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards catapulted to super-politician status by the unexpected results of Friday's presidential elections in Iran found himself at the centre of a growing controversy over allegations of vote fraud, his own shadowy past, and speculations over a crafty scheme by the top leaders of the clerical regime to lure voters to the polling booths.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran, was almost ignored by the domestic and international media until the last few days of the presidential campaign, and was widely expected to be among the five candidates who would be eliminated in the first round.
But Ahmadinejad, who belongs to the ultra-conservative camp within the theocratic regime, had something which placed him ahead of the other candidates: the nationwide powerful machinery of the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitary Bassij, as well as the active blessing and support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"In the last week of the campaign, the Supreme Leader decided that Ahmadinejad represented the best chance among his favoured candidates in the race, who also included [former police chief Mohammad-Baqer] Qalibaf and [former state broadcasting chief Ali] Larijani", an influential Tehran businessman with close ties to the ultra-conservative faction said.
"Khamenei instructed his son Mojtaba and his security chief Hojjatol-Islam Hejazi to devote all the resources of the Revolutionary Guards and other agencies controlled by the Supreme Leader's office to ensure that Ahmadinejad would reach the second round", he said.
Some observers remain sceptical as to whether Ahmadinejad is a genuine candidate who is being backed by Ayatollah Khamenei and his ultra-conservative faction to emerge as Iran's next president, or whether he is being used as a "monster" to scare people into voting for "the lesser evil", namely ex-President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
"If you look at the way the Khamenei-Rafsanjani duo worked together throughout the 1990s, it wouldn't be beyond them to be using Ahmadinejad as a demonic candidate to rally people around Rafsanjani", said Simon Bailey of the London-based Gulf Intelligence Monitor.
"Here are two men who have been rivals since the early days of the Islamic revolution, yet each one knows that he needs the other one to keep the regime on its feet", Bailey added.
Hossein Shaheen, a Paris-based analyst, agreed. "Khamenei didn't want Rafsanjani to be the next President. But as the old saying goes, if you can't stop them, join them. Both men have a vested interest in raising voter turnout, which would be critical for the continuity of their regime under highly sensitive domestic and international circumstances. A high turnout would enable them to thumb their noses at [United States President George W.] Bush. They can always settle their own accounts later", he said.
What has strengthened speculation that Ahmadinejad is being used as a tool for scaring young people and women to rush to the polling stations in the runoff that will be held next Friday are a series of extremely unpopular statements by the former Tehran mayor and his close associates since his unexpected success in the first round.
Addressing a nationwide television audience, Ahmadinejad's chief spokesman said last night that the kafiya (a popular headdress worn by men in Arab countries) must become the national headdress in Iran. Ahmadinejad himself said in an interview on Sunday that one of his top priorities will be "to implement sexual segregation in public transport systems and educational institutes".
"These are suicidal statements for a presidential candidate in a country where the support of women and young people is essential to win," Bailey said. "Ahmadinejad is certainly a radical Islamists, but we saw him in the municipal elections two years ago. He is not as dumb as he is acting right now".
Rafsanjani's supporters have been using Ahmadinejad's image as a hot-headed Islamic radical who would install a Taliban-like government in Iran to portray their candidate as "the saviour".
"A vote for Rafsanjani is a vote against totalitarian dictatorship", said Mehdi Hashemi, his son and chief campaign manager. "To boycott the second round is a dagger at the heart of democracy", Mohammad Atrianfar, the campaign's spokesman, said.
Bailey pointed to reports in some Iranian newspapers that there were "intense consultations" between Khamenei and Rafsanjani immediately after the first round of the elections. He also noted that key figures in Khamenei's camp, such as Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf and Ali Larijani, declared their support for Rafsanjani.
"It's clever and it's a typical mullah ruse", Shaheen said. "Next Friday, a lot of people are going to breathe a sigh of relief if Rafsanjani becomes President, happy that they didn't end up with a mad Taliban guy. The mullahs will have successfully avoided the central issue, which is Rafsanjani's own evil record".
Gee, this all sounds familiar. ;~ )