The lowest turnout of any general election in the 29- year life of Iran’s Islamic Republic is predicted for the vote Friday, March 14 by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran experts.
They also foresee the “reformist” factions shrunk to no more than 20-30 seats in the 290-member majlis.
Indeed Iran’s next parliament looks set to be no more than a rubber stamp for the extremist camp headed by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
That said, a major battle is afoot among Iran’s clerical leaders – excluding parliament – over the direction the Islamic Republic should take in its relations with the United States.
The two broad options which Ahmadinejad is pondering are:
1. Accommodation. The suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities to ease the undoubted damage caused the economy by further sanctions.
2. Confrontation. After whipping parliament into single line behind him, the pugnacious president will have removed the last impediment to the Revolutionary Guards’ total domination of conduct of the state, reducing Iran to an entity akin to North Korea. He will then be free to further nurture his personality cult and ride on toward a nuclear bomb in defiance of sanctions and free of military threat – except possibly from Israel.
Iran’s rulers have taken note of the incentives and benefits Pyongyang has won from the United States by standing fast against dismantling its nuclear arsenal. Ahmadinejad is confident that Iran, which is stronger than North Korea, can do just as well – or better. What he hopes to attain ultimately is an American-European safeguard for the survival of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary regime.
Snubbing Bush, standing by to court his putative successor
If after the March 14 elections, therefore, Tehran opts for confrontation, rapid militarization lies ahead for the Iranian people, accompanied by more oppression, the seizure of more top government positions by the Revolutionary Guards, scaled up belligerence against the West, increased support for the forces fighting the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and major obstacles on the US-sponsored peace track between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Whichever direction Tehran takes after the elections, Iran is shying away from diplomacy with the Bush administration on every key issue – its nuclear activities, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Its rulers have concluded that they are all too complicated to wind up before the end of the Bush presidency and so not worth broaching.
In the intermediate range, they are focusing their efforts on preserving the status quo in the region. This hardened posture has a silver lining for the White House, because it is compatible with the efforts of Bush aides to avoid regional upsets before the presidential election in November.
It also leaves Iranian policy-makers free to look into the future and prepare the ground for contacts with US presidential front-runners.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iran sources report this line of attack is an old Iranian trick, practiced first by the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.
In the early 1980s, shortly after Iran’s Islamic revolution, he drummed up a crisis with Washington, seizing the US embassy and its staff hostage and severing contacts with President Jimmy Carter, who was then in mid-campaign for a second term.
On the quiet, meanwhile, Iranian officials were closeted secretly with Ronald Reagan’s incoming team and hammering out terms ahead of his entry to the White House.
Hundreds of “Reformist” candidates disqualified
On the domestic scene, while the revolutionary regime has managed to prevent political parties taking shape, the Iranian voter has 15 lists to choose from. None are regular parties, but rather blocs or fronts, with the same names sometimes cropping up on more than one.
The radical camp has posted five or six lists with names like “The Broad Fundamentalist Coalition” (Eitlaf-e Fragir-e Ossoolgerayan), the “United Fundamentalist Front” (Jebneh-ye Mottahed-e Ossoolgerayan) or “Fundamentalist Women” (Zanan-e Ossoolgera).
The “reformists” – or rather “seekers of change” – are running two lists, the Party of Moderation and Development (Hezb-e Eetedal va Tovseeh) and the Party of NationalTrust (Hezb-e Eetemad-e Melli).
The two moderate parties that were strongest at the time of Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, have dropped off Iran’s political stage.
The incumbent was able to grind into the dust the “Party of Islamic Iranian Partnership” (Hezb-e Mosharekat-e Iran-e Eslami) and the “Iranian Islamic Holy Warriors Organization” (Sazman-e Mohahedin-e Iran-e Eslami).
The Council for the Preservation of the Constitution disqualified hundreds of candidates run by the two opposition parties, leaving many constituencies without any candidates at all and muzzling the diminished opposition in advance.
Consequently, popular discontent with Ahmadinejad’s failure to rein in galloping inflation, rising unemployment, fuel shortages and the growing social gap – all of which he pledged to repair – is robbed of a voice in the next majlis.