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99 degrees
Choosing between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad is like trying to decide whether you want your head clamped tightly in a vise and slowly squeezed or a having a car door slammed on your hand, respectively


June 22, 2005

As the dust settles in Iran and political analyses commence, as the ballot boxes are given a triumphant wipe-down before they are retired, a dilemma emerges. This latest sham-election all but guarantees that the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention of addressing democracy, a separation of church and state, human rights, gender equity, and the expansion of civil society.

The boycott of these elections by reformists, intellectuals, and dissidents, coupled with widespread reports of voting fraud (See Democracy NOW! transcript for June 20th, 2005 with Roya Hakakian) has prompted an unprecedented run-off election between a former revolutionary guard who is looking to reinforce Iran's strict Islamic code named Ahmadinejad and the regime's Comeback Willie, Mr. Rafsanjani. Both candidates have made no mention of the above-mentioned causes, nor does it seem that they will be any time soon.

Rafsanjani's case is particularly interesting. Having failed to win a seat in the 2000 parliamentary elections, he is now poised to make his political resurrection as a reformer thanks to the generous vetting of the competition and a glitzy and expensive campaign with signs in English, no less.

Rafsanjani has profited handsomely from his place in the current regime, and taken great pains to confront the 'rumors' about his personal wealth, going so far as to challenge his detractors to 'prove' he has money.

According to Forbes magazine, "the 1979 revolution transformed the Rafsanjani clan into 'commercial pashas.' One brother headed the country's largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran's $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani's sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far).

"Today, operating through various foundations and front companies, the family is also believed to control one of Iran's biggest oil engineering companies, a plant assembling Daewoo automobiles, and Iran's best private airline (though the Rafsanjanis insist they do not own these assets). None of this sits well with the populace, whose per capita income is $1,800 a year."

Less is known about Tehran's mayor and erstwhile Revolutionary Guard commander. What is known is that as President he would want to shut down the fledging Tehran Stock Exchange to drive away all foreign investment in Iran. In government full of cultural paranoics, he outshines all but the most ardent conservative members of the ruling elite. Ahmadinejad was responsible for shutting down many fast-food restaurants and requiring male city employees to have beards and long sleeves and not much else.

What else is known is that Ahmadinejad is the man who once said, "We did not have a revolution in order to have democracy" and that for being a schemer, he has an awful sense of timing. Ahmadinejad is reported to have announced that he would be in the run-off election hours before the official results were issued. This announcement came after the Guardian Council, in a display of its ever-expanding powers, decided that Ahmadinejad had received more votes than reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi.

So given that these are the choices, which one is better? Choosing between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad is like trying to decide whether you want your head clamped tightly in a vise and slowly squeezed or a having a car door slammed on your hand, respectively. The presidency of either would result in greater pain and suffering for Iranians. One could argue that Rafsanjani is the lesser of the two evils and that he is better equipped to maybe restore some semblance of relations between the US and Iran, but to support any candidate at this point is to cede further ground to the IRI.

What is clear is that the ruling elite have no plans whatsoever to allow any reforms, gradually pursued or otherwise. The issues that are most important to Iranians seeking a democratic and fair government based on the rule of law, personal freedoms and social equality have been pointedly muzzled, and further participation in the run-off election would only serve to legitimize the clerical elite that has mismanaged the nation into senseless poverty and robbed Iranian youth of their futures.

Yet the Islamic Republic, in the words of Khamenei, needs the people of Iran "to inject no blood in its veins." For Iranians forced to live under that regime, it would be better to keep their blood for themselves.

The most visible and powerful expression of a government's legitimacy is participation in the political process. Because the elections do not address the wants and desires of the Iranian people and furthermore have been tainted by charges of electoral fraud, they are illegitimate and should be massively boycotted.

Neither candidate wants to deliver the demands of a population that wants greater social and economic freedoms and democracy, nor will the nature of the existing regime allow for it. Any half-step, any belief that perhaps one will serve the interests of Iranians better ultimately prolongs the clerical death grip on Iran, its people, resources, and economy.

The IRI is aware that there is a lingering image problem from the elections and is desperate to put forth a united front and a face of consensus. Some of the hardliners say the high turnout of 62 percent discredited Bush's criticisms of the Iranian election. The Intelligence Minister said Bush "motivated people to vote in retaliation."

According to the BBC, two newspapers were closed down overnight by Iran's hard-line judiciary for planning to print a letter of complaint by another reformist candidate and cleric Mehdi Karroubi, who narrowly lost out to Ahmadinejad. Such persistent allegations of vote-rigging are unprecedented since the revolution and the closure of newspapers is a clear warning to local media not to touch the story and not to inflame the passions of the people.

At first glance, such conditions appear bleak enough to warrant giving U.S. proposals another thought. After all, George W. Bush has a long track record of hostility toward Iran and most recently called the election in Iran "undemocratic" while his muse Condi Rice has rightly questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process for barring more than 1000 candidates, including women, from running.

But the Bush Administration, if nothing else, has proven itself very adept at using the right words to cover its tracks and conceal its intentions. More importantly, the only plan to have surfaced from the US side has been that of regime change, nothing else, showing that the U.S. has no realistic solution or policy towards the democratization movement in Iran.

Democracy cannot be created at gunpoint anymore than it can be by determined power-hungry mullahs and history shows that the US tolerates democracy on its own terms, no one else's. This is no time to fall prey to charlatans hawking snake oil and miracle cures. While the calls for regime change seem to have dissipated in the face of the horrors of Iraq, US intentions for Iran do not appear transparent and should carry a warning label. Those that call for U.S. led interventions or regime change should be swiftly dismissed and discredited.

Yet Iranians in Iran have not given up and the opposition should be supported emotionally and financially. This may be where the real challenges to creating change lie, is in identifying, organizing and communicating with such groups. The massive demonstrations of women a few weeks ago show that women and the youth still remain the most formidable threat to the theocracy and that a refusal to engage women and the youth can undo them.

The failure of the government to address their desires for equality and opportunity ratchets up the pressure inside the country bit by bit. The dramatic change we long for hasn't yet arrived, but it is getting there-after all, a pot of water looks the same from 0-99 degrees Celsius. It takes one more degree of heat to set it boiling over. Boycotting the run-off election may be the spark that finally make it 100 degrees in Iran.

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