March 23, 2001
Khatami should not run
Initially after reading Hamid Zangeneh's piece, "Don't
run", I questioned whether or not his opinion was based upon factors
that are truly important. I have been a staunch supporter of the reformists,
of Khatami's presidential term, and of Khatami's reelection, and the factors
that I deemed of the utmost importance were based on these questions:
(1) How will Khatami's election nor non-election affect the domestic
(2) How will Khatami's election or nonelection affect Iran's standing
(3) How will Khatami's election or non-election allow for progress toward
civil liberty in Iran?
But after working through Zangeneh's argument, I have fallen into agreement
with him: Khatami should announce "to the public that he will not
stand for reelection and, more importantly, tell them why-- pure and simple."
In working through the basis of Zangeneh's opinion, I deduced the following:
Khatami's goal of establishing a civil society under the rule of law would
require first having the citizens of Iran become familiar with the notion
of the rule of law. Zangeneh makes the case that this step has been largely
achieved, and I concur.
The unmitigated power granted to the rahbar, Khamenei, allows for a
gap between the people's interests and official power. As a result, today's
elections in Iran are merely a veil over the true structure of power, which
sees the rahbar, Khamenei, positioned at the center. Furthermore, this
veiled power structure is allowed under the terms of the constitution.
Zangeneh then poses the questions: "What is the value to the regime
that encourages them to give Khatami more freedom? Freedom to do what?
If they want Khatami because he could guarantee the survival of the status
quo, then we need to ask why should people vote for the guarantor of a
system they do not want in its current form?"
The status quo mentioned here specifically refers to the veiled power
structure, and the hypothetical "freedom" could only be granted
within the bounds of the "veil". It would be irrational for
the camp of conservative elites around Khamenei (and Rafsanjani) to simply
offer to the reformists, "befarmaayid".
My agreement with Zangeneh is conditioned by the fact that the Majlis
will remain reformist-dominated after the election. The sum of the reformist-dominated
Majlis and a boycott of an election in which Khatami does not stand would
be a clear public renunciation of the legitimacy the presidential office
and of the current structure of the Islamic regime. There is a danger
here, however, in the way the conservative elites will respond to this
message. Nonetheless, a clear message will also be sent to the outside
world about the interests of the Iranian people.
This last point returns me to those "important factors" as
posed in those 3 initial questions. In regards to question 1: economic
goals can be considered as short term and long term. Cleaning up Iranian
politics will certainly be a boon to long term interests in terms of both
efficiency and distribution, despite sacrifices of immediate gain in the
short term. This isn't so bad: most of the immediate gains would go into
the pockets of the conservative elite anyway, and an economic recession
in the West and in Japan make short term potentials less of an incentive
to Iran's export sector.
In regards to Iran's international standing: as described in a recent
Economist article, Iran's entanglement with the Russian defense industry
is a default-- if not agonistic-- outcome of the idiosyncratic political
ideologies of Iran's conservative elite. It is difficult to say how the
election outcome will impact this relationship. But, as mentioned above,
the message sent by a Khatami-less election boycott would help clarify
the interests of the people. This message could then be considered in
contrast to the perceived interests behind Iranian weapons acquisition
and proliferation. This message could have a great impact on how countries
in the West, especially the US, would think about long term goals for their
In regards to question 3: by not standing for election and explaining
why, Khatami would be demonstrating to Iranian citizens his belief that
liberties can be extended further than what the status quo provides.
Thus I concur with Zangeneh: Khatami should not stand for reelection
and explain why.