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June 15, 2005
Iranian Election May Get Even More Ridiculous

No one expects the election in Iran to produce anything other than exactly what the ruling mullahs of the Supreme Council want: a pliant government that will impose the mullah's will on Iranians. To that end, the Guardian Council has weeded out any candidates who threaten to rock the boat by liberalizing the political climate in Iran, picking only those who will remain subservient to the council of mullahs. Now even that facade may be shorn away, as one of the few "reformers" in the election has warned that violence aimed at his supporters may force him to withdraw:

The leading reformist candidate in Iran's presidential election has threatened to pull out in protest at violent attacks on his supporters by religious extremists.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mostafa Moin also implied a possible link between the assaults and a spate of bombings that has killed 10 people in the run-up to Friday's poll. He said the violence was aimed at persuading people to vote for one of the hardline militarist candidates in the eight-man race. ...

On Sunday, four bombs exploded in government buildings in Ahvaz, in southern Khuzestan province, killing eight people and wounding 70 others, including children. Two people died later that day in further explosions in Tehran. Two other blasts took place in Zahedan on Monday.

On Saturday, hours before the Ahvaz bombings, Ebrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister and leader of the Iran Freedom Movement, became the latest Moin supporter to be beaten up after arriving at the city's airport.

Iranian authorities say three little-known Arab separatist groups, aided by foreign intelligence agencies, have claimed responsibility for the Khuzestan bombings. The claim is disputed. No group has admitted the Tehran attacks, which the government says were not related to the Ahvaz incident.

Speaking aboard his campaign bus in Isfahan province, Mr Moin, the Islamic Iran Participation Front candidate, did not say who he thought was behind the blasts. Asked if he believed the attacks had official approval, he replied: "I do not consider it improbable. If they continue in this way, my supporters will hold an emergency meeting to study the situation and they will reconsider our participation in the election.

The mullahs know that their population has become increasingly restless. Twenty-six years after the Islamic Revolution, the people have tired of the slogans and the ascetic devotions demanded of them by the hard-line mullahs and want more freedom to live by their own conscience. Students especially express these frustrations -- the first generation of Iranians to grow up entirely under the auspices of deeply conservative Shi'ite Islam that the mullahs impose.

The imams see that time does not favor their movement. In an effort to retain some kind of popular support for their rule, the mullahs may be trying to scare Iranians into supporting hardliners. Alternately, they may also be trying to frighten voters into staying away from the balloting. Although the mullahs have lectured Iranians about their religious "duty" to vote, their preferred candidate, former police chief Mohammed Qalif, has said he would be satisfied of the election's legitimacy with a turnout of 40%, half of the last election.

Under these conditions, the Iranian elections reveal themselves more and more to be farcical. Moin appears to have reached the same conclusion, and his impulse to withdraw may wind up giving him more credibility in the long run than continued participation in an obvious fraud. Given that he now runs a close second to former president Akbar Rafsanjani, his withdrawal could also spark an outpouring of rage into the streets of Teheran that could end the mullahcracy for good.

UPDATE: Make sure to read the comments on this post. Longtime CQ reader Dafydd ab Hugh (and others) remind me that 'conservative' probably isn't the correct term to describe the mullahs; perhaps 'reactionary' would be better, as he suggests. Michael Ledeen, everyone's go-to-man on Iran, makes the point better than I did that Moin is the regime's idea of an acceptable Reformist candidate, which is to say that he won't reform a lot even if he does win -- which he won't. He's there for the window dressing. On the other hand, if he pulls out under duress, that might still be enough to energize the true opponents of the regime into concrete action.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 15, 2005 6:41 AM

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