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June 20, 2005
Iran Vote Rigged, Reformers Stuck With Rafsansjani

Iranian voters interested in serious reform have found themselves locked out of the presidential election, a suspicious result given the fervor for change among the electorate. The weekend's elections produced two candidates from the slate approved by the Guardian Council -- those candidates with which the mullahs decided they could live -- neither of which hold much hope for reform. As a result, frustrated Iranians ponder a boycott of the runoff, while the former darling of the mullahs warns such an action could result in "totalitarianism":

Iran's reformist camp, suffering a devastating defeat in the first round of the presidential elections, is divided over a call to boycott the second round. ...

The liberals have an awkward choice on Friday: vote for the pragmatic Rafsanjani or urge a boycott.

"Between bad and worse, it's better to select bad," said Morteza Fallah, the managing editor of the reformist Eqbal daily newspaper, labelling Rafsanjani as the lesser of two evils.

Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani served as president once before, a few years after the resolution of the American hostage crisis, in which he was principally involved. Now he speaks of pursuing normal relations with the US in order to attract the burgeoning reform vote, but his very appearance on the runoff ballot shows that the mullahs do not fear contradiction in any meaningful manner from the Shi'ite cleric. His competition, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came as a complete surprise to outside observers, who expected "reformist" candidate Mustafa Moin to challenge Rafsanjani in a runoff. While election monitors ponder how Moin dropped off the radar screen so soon after polling showed him running a close second to Rafsanjani, the former president urged Iranians to avoid a totalitarian government by supporting his candidacy:

The front-runner in Iran's presidential runoff sought to rally moderates Sunday by warning that his hard-line opponent would run a totalitarian regime. The statement from the campaign manager for Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani came amid suspicions the powerful Revolutionary Guard would rig the runoff vote for conservatives.

Rafsanjani's campaign manager, Mohammed Baghir Nowbakht, said Friday's runoff was crucial because hard-liners would not tolerate differences of opinions if elected and would run a "totalitarian" regime. ...

Rafsanjani president in 1989-1997 finished first in Friday's balloting with only 21 percent of the vote. That was barely half the 40 percent most political analysts had predicted he would get.

But an even bigger surprise was the emergence of Tehran's hard-line Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a former Revolutionary Guard commander as the voters' second choice. He received more than 19 percent.

Ahmadinejad, 49, is unabashedly conservative, resurrecting the fervor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution during the campaign by saying Iran "did not have a revolution in order to have democracy."

Ahmadinejad comes closest to speaking the truth in this situation. The entire election is a fraud, a sham to keep the Iranians harping at each other instead of removing the Guardian Council and its Revolutionary Guards which have controlled political life since 1979 for Iranians. The Council exercises strict control over which candidates qualify for the ballot, allowing the Council to define acceptable levels of "reform" for the electorate. Even Moin won acceptance, at least as a candidate, although it appears that the Council had no intention of allowing him to actually challenge for the position.

In reality, a boycott would probably be the best idea for the reformers. It would delegitimize the Guardian Council's elections and defy the hard-line imams who tried to shill for the Council by demanding that their congregations turn out for the vote. One could argue endlessly about the merits of Rafsanjani as opposed to the nutty Teheran mayor and newcomer Ahmadinejad, but in truth the only people running Iran after the election will be the same ones running it now -- the unelected and unaccountable Guardian Council.

Reformers don't need to give that system any more credibility, and lack of participation costs them nothing in the end. They should walk away. Let them vote with their feet.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 20, 2005 6:22 AM

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