Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Theatre of the absurd

The last Iranian election: reiteration of the same insignificant practice

By Khalid Khayati
The Kurdish Globe

Conservative hardliners won an overwhelming majority in the Iranian parliamentary election that was held on Friday, March 14. In fact, conservative candidates continue to keep control of the Islamic Majlis as they did in the course of the last mandate.

However, their victory was in line with all expectations as the powerful Guardian Council-an unelected institution of clerics and religious jurists for the control of the candidates-had rejected more than 3,000 "undesirable" candidates prior to the election. Thanks to this exclusionary mechanism, the presence of the rivalry political forces in the election could in any state of cause pose risk to the victory of the hardliners. However, conservatives who call themselves "principalists" for the allegiance they offer to the Islamic Republic's initial ideals obtained more than 170 seats in the 290-member Islamic assembly while reformists secured 40 seats.

According to the Iranian Interior Ministry, the level of participation was about 65%-quite an exaggerated figure as the Iranian oppositional organizations and certain Western news agencies reported on voter desertion in the polling places. For instance, the German Deutsche Welle correspondent reported in the Iranian capital about a much busier bazaar than the polling stations as the population of Tehran was preparing itself for the traditional day of Newroz, which would come just a week after the election. The reformists who did particularly well in the capital showed a glitter of joy, however, over their limited success at the same time that they timidly accused the officials of patronizing and manipulating the process of voting in the country.

Many political observers as well as oppositional activists have already showed their scepticism vis-à-vis this Iranian election as it, similar to many previous experiences, would not bring about any political, social, and economic changes in the direction of democracy and participatory statehood. The EU criticized the conduct of the vote as "neither fair nor free." Washington said Iran's leadership had "cooked" the election by counteracting reformists.

The first reason for such mistrust among political analysts goes back to the nature of the Iranian political system of Velayat-e-Faghih (Clerical State), as it is highly non-democratic and exclusionary vis-à-vis those political ideas that are said to be in contrast to the leading Islamic political and cultural values. In this political system, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed already in June 1989 as the supreme leader for life, is the highest power in the country as he appoints not only the head of the judiciary, military leaders, the head of radio and TV, and Friday prayer leaders, but also six members of the Guardian Council, an influential institution which, as was said above, supervises all legislation. In such a context, there is no room for real political organizations that would compete with each other in the elections, as it is the case in many democratic and semi-democratic countries. The situation of the reformist candidates -who also were conservatives in the days after the establishment of the Islamic regime - in last Friday's election is a clear indication of the fact the current Iranian political system does not tolerate even its own progenies.

As for the skeptical political analysts, the last general election in Iran will not in any state of cause show a path toward a clear horizon for the future of the Iranian people. Neither is it a way toward a more liberal society where human rights, freedom of speech, the political and cultural rights of the non-Persian ethnic groups, and the general welfare of the population are promoted. The objective of the Islamic regime in launching such an election-similar to any other popular show-is rather to preserve the status quo and homogenize the ideological structures of the political power - according to the Islamic regime a necessary prerequisite- for facing real or imagined internal and external enemies of the country. In this respect, the U.S. and its Western allies play the role of the external enemies as they regularly accuse Iran of conducting illegal nuclear activities, supporting terrorist groups, and violating basic human rights in the country. Now the question is: How long can the Islamic Republic of Iran resist the risk of change, a risk that in the current Middle East looks rather like a delivery pain that should be soon or later followed by a birth?

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