Skip to comments.Cleric's star rises in Iran after vote - Hashemi Rafsanjani
Posted on 12/20/2006 7:02:22 PM PST by NormsRevenge
TEHRAN, Iran - Elder statesman Hashemi Rafsanjani, a mercurial cleric who has played both sides of Iran's reformist-conservative divide, is rising again as a key challenger to Iran's president after local elections show deep discontent with the president's hard line.
Last week's elections for local councils in towns and cities across Iran were seen as a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 18 months in office, and results so far were showing widespread victories for his opponents.
Since taking power, Ahmadinejad has escalated Iran's confrontation with the United States and the West on multiple fronts, in particular drawing the threat of U.N. sanctions for pushing ahead with uranium enrichment in Iran's nuclear program. He has also sparked widespread international outrage for his comments against Israel and casting doubt on the Nazi Holocaust.
On Wednesday, a leading newspaper that usually reflects the thinking of many in Iran's conservative clerical leadership said in a blistering editorial that the election results showed it was time for Ahmadinejad to moderate his tone and concentrate on improving the ailing economy.
"The election could be very instructive to those who have been in power," the Jomhuri Eslami editorial said. "Arrogance, disregarding people's economic situation, insulting respected people and high-flying policies were among the elements of the failure of those who could not imagine such a failure."
Ahmadinejad, who has not commented on Friday's elections, felt the heat personally during a speech Tuesday in the western town of Kermanshah. During his address, some in the crowd chanted, "unemployment, unemployment, unemployment is a major problem," the pro-government daily Keyhan reported.
The results showed a partial comeback for Iran's reformist movement, which was crushed over the past five years by hard-liners who drove them out of the local councils, parliament and the presidency. The reformers seek closer ties to the West even the United States and a loosening of the power of Iran's clerical rulers.
But the big winners were "moderate conservatives," who support the clerical regime but have become disillusioned by Ahmadinejad, saying he needlessly provokes the West, isolates Iran and ignores economic reform.
Many analysts were now predicting a coalition between reformers and moderate conservatives to oppose Ahmadinejad and his hard-line allies in parliament and presidential elections in 2009.
Talk of a political bloc was fueled after two top reformist politicians former president Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi met on Sunday with Rafsanjani, a top moderate conservative.
Rafsanjani's status was boosted in a parallel election held Friday picking members of the Assembly of Experts, a body made up of 86 clerics that oversees Iran's supreme leader and picks his successor.
Rafsanjani won the most votes of any candidate in Tehran for the assembly half a million more than his closest competitor a strong show of support for Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in June 2005 presidential elections.
"The people's vote for Rafsanjani meant they hope he will create and improve the moderate line," said Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst and columnist in Resalat conservative daily.
Final results from the local council election in Tehran were expected on Thursday. The interior ministry said only a few thousand of the 1.9 million votes still remained to be tallied, blaming the delay on the large turnout and the simultaneous vote for the Experts Assembly.
But partial results showed Ahmadinejad's allies won only two seats on Tehran's 15-member council, one of them going to his sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad. Conservative moderates were on track to take eight seats, and reformers four. The last seat appeared set to go to an independent.
Final results were announced for the rest of the country and showed a heavy defeat for Ahmadinejad supporters. None of his candidates won seats on the councils in the cities of Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Sari, Zanjan and Kerman. Many councils in other cities were divided along similar proportions as Tehran's.
The election does not directly effect Ahmadinejad's power. It chose 113,000 seats on councils that administer city affairs and pick mayors.
It was not clear whether Ahmadinejad will bow to pressure to at least change his tone, if not the substance, of his policies. The pro-government Keyhan called the election as a victory for Ahmadinejad depicting all conservatives as his supporters suggesting some in the hard-liner camp do not see it as a call for change.
But many see the vote as signs of an anti-Ahmadinejad moderate coalition rallying behind Rafsanjani.
The 72-year-old Rafsanjani who served as president from 1989-1997 has long been an elusive inside player in Iran's clerical leadership. He is mistrusted by reformists because of his closeness to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and by hard-liners because of his emphasis on pragmatism over ideology.
Rafsanjani has supported the Islamic republic's policy of shunning the United States, yet played a major role in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal in which the U.S. sold arms to Iran in return for help in freeing hostages held in Lebanon. He also backs the line rejecting a suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program, but has shown a willingness to compromise in backroom negotiations on the nuclear program.
Pro-reform students frequently jeered him in demonstrations in the past, and he suffered a humiliating defeat by reformists in 2000 parliament elections, when he failed to win a seat.
In the 2005 run-off presidential election, Rafsanjani was the more moderate candidate in the race against Ahmadinejad, but demoralized pro-reform voters failed to turn out in strength to support him.
But Khatami's meeting with him Sunday suggested reformers could turn to embrace him.
"People showed in the elections that they don't like hard-line policies," said Mohammad Atrianfar, a political activist and a leader of moderate Kargozaran Party. "From now on (Ahmadinejad's) hard-line current will lose its power and it will return to its place."
That I think is the heart of things. There seems no immediate prospect of a revolution happening in Iran. Failing a revolution, you're not going to see a major realignment of policy -- but you could see a more subtle policy shift with different leadership.
What you might see with more reasonable leadership is a greater willingness to work with regional powers including the United States on Israel (no more stupid Holocaust denial conferences), on Iraq, on aid to Hezbollah and maybe even on the nuclear question (although that will no doubt be the toughest).
Iran will still seek to increase its own power and influence within the greater Middle East. But it won't necessarily be playing a game of geopolitical chicken with the US. We shouldn't overplay the chance of a change in Iranian policy, but a subtle change seems likely.
He's not going anywhere. He hasn't made threats to the world and risked complete isolation over nukes at the expense of his own people for nothing.
The mullahs call the shots in that country. They decide who can run in elections, and as with Amajihadmad, have the outcomes of elections decided before they happen.
Everything they do is to keep themselves in power and force their religion on the masses.
This is a little like voting choosing between the Khmer Rouge and Maoists.
Yep, and the mad mullahs have decided Imadinnerjacket is a disaster for them. If he stays in power much longer one of two things will happen. Either the US will bomb them into eternity or their own people will rise up to overthrow Imadinnerjacket and the mad mullahs while they're at it.
They know they have overplayed their hand and they desperately want to step back from the abyss.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The conservatives are attacking the Supreme Leader (Who backs Ahmadijinad) and Ahmadijinad but not the slighty moderate conservative clerics who run the Guardian Council.
This is why they are not attacking Ahmadijinad, but also Supreme Leader Khanemi has been under attack by economic conservative members of his regieme and his own gurdian council and assembly of experts, who can remove him.
There is a huge generation gap in Iran right now. The old bosses are doing everything they can to hold onto power and the next generation is looking for more openess, a better economy, and less "Death to the great satan" crap.
There is a fight among the Iranian Religous conservatives as well.