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Iran's Meaningless Elections By: Reza Bayegan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 29, 2004

The parliamentary elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran are a sham every thoughtful person should boycott. Iran is a country whose laws are enacted with a view to protect the strong and powerful against the democratic rights of its citizens. This fact was re-emphasized when 3,600 out of 8,200 candidates registered to stand in elections for the 290-member parliament were rejected by the Guardian Council. The decision by the 12-member body clearly demonstrates the irresolvable contradictions within the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The Guardian Council is another tentacle put forth by the dictatorship in Tehran to suffocate political freedom. As a body overseeing the work of the parliament, it is directly and indirectly appointed by the Vali-e-Faqih or the Supreme Leader, and acts as his instrument for controlling the membership and decisions of the parliament. Through the Guardian Council he makes sure that only those candidates who tow the fundamentalist line and are especially loyal to Article Five of the constitution are approved for elections. This article states "that Vali-e-Faqih, or the Supreme Leader exercises combined supreme political and religious power and, indeed, is a manifestation of the integration of politics with religion."

Mohsen Mirdamadi, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, who was also disqualified, was quoted as saying that some of the well-known candidates such as Khatami's younger brother and Behzad Nabavi were rejected because "the Council had concluded that they did not support the rule of the supreme religious leader." In spite of being a tool of the fundamentalists and regardless of its motive, the Council, contrary to what the reformists are charging has not done anything illegal in rejecting the candidates and has acted according to the existing laws of the country.


Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, refusing to interfere in the election crisis, knows very well that his totalitarian rule is enshrined in the constitution. When reacting to the row over the massive disqualification of the candidates he complacently declared on January 20, "We have legal channels and everyone should act based on the law."


Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident clergyman, accused Khamenei of manipulating the Council in a speech delivered after the disqualification of candidates. In his statement, Mohsen Kadivar poignantly illustrates the political chaos created by an irrational and undemocratic constitution. Calling Khamenei's claim of impartiality in the conflict between hardliners and the reformists a political manoeuver, he pointed out "in this football match the referee is also the coach of one of the teams and has handed the red card to the other team's players even before the match has begun.” What is underlined here is the impractical arrangement within the political system of the Islamic Republic. As long as the Supreme Leader is provided with sweeping political powers he cannot be expected to stay above politics and act as an impartial sage. The cock-eyed sentimentalism of the Revolution that was bent on ignoring reality could only lead to a system inimical to liberty and subversive of democratic laws and principles. The absurdity of the constitution of the Islamic Republic has been proven time and again during the past 25 years. It has played havoc with Iran's domestic as well as international politics. Ayatollah Khomeini as the religious and political leader of the country would pass edicts, such as the ones condemning Salman Rushdie to death or refusing to end an internecine war with Iraq. As Ayatollah Khomeini was unable to sit quietly, playing the role of a symbolic figurehead only intervening in matters of extreme emergency as a last resort, the current Ayatollah Khamenei also believes that his political existence is tied to the exercise of his power and authority. His fingerprints are everywhere bending the country to his will and choking every voice that is not in consonance with his backward understanding of Islamic Shiaism.


After the election of Mohammad Khatami whose promising style enthralled many Iranians as well as foreign observers, the prospect of political transformation and a bloodless transfer of power to the people seemed imminent. It soon became evident however that Mr. Khatami's style lacks the necessary substance and his ultimate loyalty is to consolidating his fellow-mullahs' power rather than his fellow-countrymen's political rights.


Mohammad Khatami's huge concessions to the fundamentalists have not deterred them from barring his supporters from from parliamentary election. Many of these supporters rode to office on the wave of public enthusiasm for change and on the basis of the promise they made to put an end to political repression. The hope they once inspired and the public enthusiasm over the transformation they could bring about was dashed before long.  The establishment of the rule of law as pledged by Khatami during his presidential campaign wherever it met with success, it highlighted the defectiveness of the law itself.


The undeniable political reality in today's Iran is that the disillusioned population rejects the whole Islamic Republic lock, stock and barrel. Indeed the Council of Guardians is watching over values detested by the majority of the country's citizens. The entire political establishment -- reformist as well as the hardliners -- have lost their political credibility and can no longer inspire any hope. President Khatami and his so-called reformist movement are even in a weaker moral position. They have earned people's contempt by their political impotence and intellectual bankruptcy.


The mood of the students in the country's university campuses -- which in Iran is customarily a good signal of the political pulse of the whole nation -- indicates disillusionment with the present political arrangement. The majority of students have decided to show their opposition through non-participation in the elections. Many see no prospect of any political alternative emerging from within the existing system. A recent survey carried out in the Amirkabir University campus shows that around 40 percent of the students are unlikely to vote. Of the rest, around 15 percent said they would, but only with a view to helping their chances of employment after graduation.


Although Mr. Khatami and his supporters might hope that the present controversy over the large scale disqualifications will help to stir the population and prompt them to go to the polls, it has become evident to the Iranians that the electoral process does not offer any real choice. Various factions of the totalitarian establishment can provide no real relief from the political quagmire that has engulfed the country from the beginning of the revolution. The political system of the country needs a far more comprehensive alteration than temporary and limited concession asked by reformist members of the parliament like Mr. Jalal Jalali from Sanandaj, the capital of the Kurdish province in the western part of Iran. Objecting to the massive disqualifications of the candidates he has argued, "One political group cannot decide for the whole population.” He has also threatened that if the decision of the Council is not altered, the Kurds will boycott the upcoming parliamentary election. Mr. Jalali is right to object to the political domination of the whole country by a minority. He is wrong however in thinking that the lifting of the ban by the Guardian Council will solve the problem. For even if all the rejected candidates are allowed to run for election, the major obstacle he is addressing in the political system of the Islamic Republic will remain unsolved.


In a state that tops every other dictatorship in media control, the will of one political group inevitably is dictated and imposed on the rest. In a country in which political parties are banned and peaceful dissent is not tolerated, every responsible Iranian citizen who values freedom and human dignity should stay away from the polls in the parliamentary elections.


The political scene in Iran for a long time has looked like an old story in Persian literature about elephant training. The trainer donning a mask enters the stage and starts beating up and lashing the cornered elephant. Moving off the stage he removes his mask and reenters with a bucket full of edibles, feeding and caressing the abused animal. Through this method of pretending to be two persons, one tender and the other cruel, the maskless trainer gradually gains the trust and cooperation of the elephant. After many painful years, Iranians have realized the face of the same persecutor behind the reformist and conservative masks. The curtain seems to be fast coming down on the mullahs' political circus.

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