Elections Seal Absolute Clerical Domination

Iranian radicals are celebrating their landslide victory in the Islamic Republic’s rigged parliamentary election of last Friday, February 20. Even they did not believe their “political upheaval” would go so smoothly. Fifty-five seats remain to be decided in a run-off vote two months. But the radicals – supporters of Iran’s hard-line spiritual leader Ali Khamenei – can count on winding up with 160 to 190 of the 290 seats in the Majlis. This is a triumph for Khamenei and hismilitary-religious clique, and a major boost for their aspirations to export Iran’s Islamic Revolution to its neighbors and produce the ultimate deterrent – a nuclear bomb.

The uncertainty over the radicals’ final seat tally stems from the lack of information on the allegiances of women candidates and other new faces returned. Dozens of self-proclaimed independents were also elected, and their positions on domestic and foreign policies have yet to be revealed.

The reformists are meanwhile licking their wounds. It was a crushing defeat for the forces of change, who can count on no more than 40 seats after the run-off. Their influence in the Majlis, or parliament, will be minimal. Reformists failed to push through a single liberal law in the outgoing sixth parliament, where they controlled 160 of the 290 seats. Now that the balance of forces in the new house is reversed, and their leaders have been consigned to the political wilderness, no one is likely to pay much attention to their demands.

The list of has-beens is long: Mohammad-Reza Khatami, brother of the Iranian president and head of the Mosharekat party, Behzad Nabavi, leader of the left wing of the regime, Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-pour, one of the founders of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, secretary general of the organization supporting the Palestinian Intifada and chairman of the reformist majority faction in the sixth Majlis. The influential Hojjat-Ol-Eslam Mahdi Karroubi, prominent in the reformist camp – and yet a close collaborator with the extremists, resigned before the count was over rather than fight for a seat in the Tehran district.With 30 seats contested, he would have finished between the 29th and 31st places.

The size of turnout

The radical and reformist camps are still arguing over this point

The 12-man Guardian Council, which summarily barred 2,500 reformist candidates from running in the election, claimed 23 million voters, or 60 percent of 40 million eligible voters, cast ballots. But the reform-minded Interior Ministry, which was nominally in charge of the election, counted 46 million eligible voters of whom 50 percent turned out. The real figure is probably closer to 30 percent nationwide, and no more than 25 percent in Teheran rather than the officially claimed 32.5 percent.

Veteran Iranian watchers have picked out doctored statistics from Interior Ministry figures published on a special Internet website. For example, those statistics translated to 109.95 percent of the vote in the town of Semirom, 107.99 percent in Lordakan, 101.97 percent in Mamassani and 171 percent in Pole-Dolktar!

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Teheran reported last week that six million fake identification cards had been printed, enabling conservative voters to cast multiple ballots, so accounting for these bizarre figures. Soldiers were told to show up at Revolutionary Guards bases – the force numbers some 400,000 – and government employees instructed to clock in on election day, although it fell on the Muslim Sabbath. They were all told to bring their ID cards, which were confiscated and returned an hour later. The astonished card-holders were told: “We voted instead of you to save you the trouble.”

The victory the radicals are trumpeting is part of a shrewd scheme to recapture the positions wrested from them when President Mohammed Khatami took office as well as lifting their image.

They even chose a new name for their largest faction, Abadgaran (the Developers), to support their campaign pledge to revive Iran’s sagging economy. This posture struck the right chord with many Iranians who are more concerned with making a living than living free.

The reformists intend to go out with a bang: They plan to call Khatami to the Majlis podium and accuse him of having cooperated with Khamenei in rigging the elections. The defeated parties hope he will at least admit the poll was not above board, although he has never been one for confrontation.

Although Khamenei’s cohorts want to convince the Iranian people that repression will ease, they have instructed the judiciary to indict reformist leaders on charges of harming state security and undermining the government through their political protests and attempts to promote a voter boycott.

Eying Washington

None of this has prevented the conservative victors from making promises to open the way to a dialogue with Washington. While fearing renewed ties with the US as a potential deathblow to the ideology of the Islamic Revolution, they are pragmatic enough to bend their convictions in order to stay in power in the face of the country’s deteriorating international situation.

They have been given reason to fear from the latest International Energy Agency report that their nuclear program will come before the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions would be threatened. They realize that US President George W. Bush may be busy with his own election campaign, but he may judge that moving Iran’s nuclear potential to the top of his foreign policy agenda would be a sure vote-getter.

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