Thursday, January 24, 2008

Majlis Elections: Changing the Results before Any Vote is Cast!

Iran’s Ministry of Interior has banned nearly one-third of the candidates from standing in 14 March parliamentary elections. Individuals with “a record” at the Ministry of Intelligence, the police or the judiciary were banned. The Interior Ministry rejected some 2,200 candidates, representing 31% of those registered. Reformist parties report that hundreds of their candidates were disqualified. The Islamic Participation Front, a main reformist party, said that 70 percent of reformist candidates from different groups had been disqualified from the ballot. “Such large number of disqualifications is unprecedented,” said a statement by the party.

The vetting process is not over yet. The Guardian Council would now examine the qualification of the remaining candidates based on their loyalty to the Islamic Republic and adherence to the Islamic principles. Additional moderate and reformist candidates are expected to be disqualified by the Guardian Council.

Voters will not have much of a choice when they go to the polls. The traditional conservatives and radical fundamentalists in control of every branch of government feared they could loose control of the parliament to reformists and moderates. By banning their opponents, the government is changing the results of the elections before even a single vote is cast.

The elections were increasingly seen as a test of popularity for Ahmadinejad. “Conservatives are scared of a reformist victory because of the government's failed economic policies,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister and a leading reformist. It appears that the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council would prevent the elections to be turned into a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s government. The inflation and unemployment are at record high, and a shortage of heating gas during a record cold winter has caused many deaths and widespread dissatisfaction with the government.

Even the government’s nuclear policy, seemingly a safe heaven for Ahmadinejad, has started to unravel. With the publication by the US government of the new NIE, the public expected a quick turnaround and the referral of Iran’s nuclear dossier from UN Security Council back to IAEA. But Ahmadinejad’s government could not even prevent China and Russia to vote for yet another UN sanctions resolution. The government looks hapless and disorganized.

The reformists had a realistic second chance at power. Disqualifying so many candidates might save the day for the government, but would create a potentially bigger problem, loosing its legitimacy. Hasan Rowhani, the former chief nuclear negotiator and the current head of the Centre for Strategic Studies, spoke eloquently about the “danger of popular vote turning into mere formality.”

In The New York Times today we read the telling story of Akbar Alami. Alami, a current member of the parliament and an outspoken critic of Ahmadinejad, is a devout Muslim and an Islamic Republic loyalist from an early age. He lost most of his right hand in the war with Iraq. Yet he was among the candidates who were disqualified to stand for elections.

“At age 52, I learned that according to the Executive Board [of elections] I had allegations of non-commitment to Islam, lack of belief in the system of the Islamic Republic and lack of following the constitution of the Islamic Republic,” said Alami.

The “in” circle in the Islamic Republic is shrinking rapidly and with it the government’s legitimacy claimed during a popular uprising nearly thirty years ago.

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