As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Iran's Choice - Rejecting Confrontation

I've been fascinated by Iran's June 12 election over the past couple days, in particular because the result could genuinely surprise, as four years of Holocaust denial and high-profile rhetorical bomb-throwing have possibly threatened Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances for re-election. I say possibly because it's so hard to tell: while one "secret poll" reported by Newsweek has the Iranian President trailing Mir Hossein Mousavi by 2-1, a more recent public opinion survey has Ahmadinejad ahead by the same ratio, albeit with 27% undecided. It appears unlikely that either candidate, or the two others, will reach the 50% + 1 necessary to avoid a runoff. Record turnout is expected,with campaign rallies shutting down Tehran, so perhaps the modeling is bad, producing the wildly divergent results. Is there an Iranian Nate Silver?

Certainly Iranians have cause to find fault with their President, who I like to point out is not their leader - that would be the Supreme Leader, who blasted the President for his completely bizarre debate performance a few days back:

In the most significant development, Ahmadinejad appeared to have irked the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over his performance in Wednesday night's debate with Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main opponent in next week's presidential election.

"One doesn't like to see a nominee, for the sake of proving himself, seeking to negate somebody else," Khamenei said in a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of the Iranian revolution's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. "I have no problem with debate, dialogue and criticism but these debates must take place within a religious framework." [...]

Apparently trailing in the opinion polls, Ahmadinejad attempted to link Mousavi – the main reformist candidate – to the past governments of Rafsanjani and the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatam, which he said had been guilty of widespread graft. Among others, he singled out Rafsanjani's sons as well as Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the current head of the supreme leader's inspectorate.

Khamenei's criticisms echoed those of Mousavi, who told Ahmadinejad during the debate: "This is a sin. We are Muslims, we believe in God. We cannot name people like that and accuse them."

It's not just the Supreme Leader (who still has endorsed Ahmadinejad) who have reason to call out the incumbent for criticism. Reformers who boycotted the last election after Mohammed Khatami failed to make meaningful inroads with his agenda are coalescing around the little-known Mousavi, particularly the young, who are completely turned off by the President's confrontational style. The poor economy has cut off Ahmadinejad from his rural base, who are angered by his policies of driving up inflation and rewarding political friends. And even the conservative elite has turned away from Ahmadinejad, who they find counter-productive.

Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West [...]

They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud.

Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad.

"Some of the supporters of Mousavi like his ideas; others don't want Ahmadinejad," said Javad Etaat, a professor of political science and a campaigner for Mousavi. "They've decided that preserving the nation is more important than preserving the government."

I don't think we can know for sure what the results will be, but there certainly are signs that Ahmadinejad's belligerence played better in the "Arab street" abroad than at home. Regardless of who is elected in Iran, the hardline clerics who actually run the country seem determined to continue nuclear energy production which contains the genesis of the entire conflict with the West (although nobody has reasonably explained what has changed from the most recent NIE on Iran, which said that they had not restarted nuclear weapons development, and today). But if Ahmadinejad is defeated on the 12th, it will truly signal that hardliner belligerence can be as much a hindrance for a politician as a help. And that's a good thing.

But I'm more interested in seeing our American Taliban's head spin around at the prospect of seeing the supposedly fascist dictator of Iran defeated in a peaceful election.

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