Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nearly did not make it onto the list of candidates for the 2005 presidential elections. Other candidates, such as Ali Larijani (current head of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team), Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Tehran’s current mayor), and Mohsen Rezai (Deputy Head of the Expediency Council), who belonged to the same faction as Ahmadinejad, were trying to push him out of the race at the time because he was crowding the field. Having four people from the same faction meant that they would have been stealing votes from each other, enabling outside competitors such as Rafsanjani to gain an advantage. Ahmadinejad was singled out because he was the least-known candidate among the public. They assumed no one would notice if he dropped out.
Ahmadinejad’s saving grace was a poll taken by Mehr News three days prior to the election. It showed that Ahmadinejad was the third most popular candidate of the seven running for president. This legitimized his position as a candidate, and he stayed on to win the election.
While Ahmadinejad owes his initial success to polls, his presidency has since to come to rightly fear them. Although many have ruled out polls in Iran as an objective yardstick, the very fact that politicians are nevertheless scared of them shows that they do present some valid information.
This was demonstrated recently when Radio Javan, an Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) owned radio station, asked its listeners, on the second anniversary of Ahamadinejad’s victory, to SMS the candidate they would vote for if the election were held again. The listeners had the same seven candidates to choose from as they did in 2005. The results of this poll were never publicized. According to reports from Iran, this was due to pressure from Ahmadinejad, who had been informed of his performance.
Ahmadinejad is a well-connected man in the IRIB. Ezzatollah Zarghami, the current head of IRIB, is a Revolutionary Guard comrade of Ahmadinejad’s. However, being a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Gaurds Corp (IRGC) does not mean that Ahmadinejad can always get what he wants.
Baztab.com, which is one of the best sources of news from Iran, is owned by Mohsen Rezai, another IRGC veteran. Rezai does not allow Ahmadinejad to abuse his position. As one of the best connected politicians in Iran, Mohsen Rezai has the freedom to scrutinize and criticize Ahmadinejad’s plans and policies like no other. Although he does praise Ahmadinejad where he sees fit; his fearlessness has won him respect in and outside of Iran. This is one man that Ahmadinejad cannot push around, a fact that Rezai does not hesitate to remind him of.
Baztab recently ran a poll asking users if they would vote for Ahmadinejad or not. Each computer was only allowed one vote, and 20,177 voters took part. Unlike Radio Javan, Baztab did publish its results.
There were four questions and each voter could choose only one. The votes were broken down into two categories — those who for Ahmadinejad in 2005 in Category One, and those who did not in Category Two:
1. I voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005, and would vote for him again: 37.5%
2. I voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005, but would not vote for him again: 62.5%
1. I did not vote for Ahmadinejad in 2005, but would vote for him next time: 5.3%
2. I did not vote for Ahmadinejad in 2005, and would not vote for him next time: 94.7%
The results are an astounding setback for Ahmadinejad. 62.5% of voters who said that they voted for him in 2005 would not do so again. This is first and foremost due to the combination of the abysmal performance of his economic policies and his inability to cut corruption, as he promised to do in 2005.
The rationing of petrol has only made things worse. Far worse. On the day the rationing plan was started, a popular SMS was doing the rounds of millions of mobile phones in Iran. The message read, “No petrol to drive your car to work? Don’t worry. Use one of the 17 million donkeys who voted for Ahmadinejad to ride to work.” This message worried the administration so much that the entire SMS system was shut down for a day in order to enable the Ministry of Communication to delete the insulting messages from the network.
Although Ahmadinejad is unpopular, the West must not think that it has a blank to check to do what it wants in Iran. Every time the words “regime change” are uttered by neocons in Washington the extremists score political loyalty points. Something they desperately need. The UN may seem toothless from the perspective of Washington. But it is one of the most useful and powerful organizations for tackling extremists in Iran due to its international composition, and the very fact that Iran itself is a member. Such legitimacy strikes fear in the heart of Ahmadinejad’s government like no other foreign organization can.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author of the newly released “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran” He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas). This article was originally published at Pajamas Media.