Amid intense calls by Iran’s democratic opposition for the boycott of the upcoming June 17 presidential elections and Tehran’s worried rush to showcase the sham as a sign of its popular legitimacy, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is reported to be the front-runner.
While some in Washington are quick to describe Rafsanjani as a “moderate” or “pragmatic” figure who can save the day, it is imperative to understand the meaning - or lack thereof – of elections in Iran and to observe Rafsanjani when he is not busy spinning his image.
On May 5, 1989, Rafsanjani, then Iran’s powerful Speaker of Parliament and acting Commander-in-Chief, called on Palestinians to kill Americans and other Westerners. Speaking at a Friday prayers congregation, he told the crowd, “If in retaliation for every Palestinian martyred in Palestine they kill and execute, not inside Palestine, five Americans, or Britons or Frenchmen,” the Israelis “would not continue these wrongs.” He continued, “It is not difficult to kill Americans or Frenchmen. It is a bit difficult to kill [Israelis]. But there are so many [Americans and Frenchmen] everywhere in the world.”
It took the ever-cunning Rafsanjani just a few weeks to reinvent himself as a “moderate” establishment leader whom the West could negotiate with. Less than a month after his tirade, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding father of Iran’s terror-sponsoring theocracy, died. As a result of a series of power-sharing arrangements between the regime’s leaders, Ali Khamenei became the supreme leader and Rafsanjani positioned himself to be the next president, a post occupied by Khamenei until then.
Sixteen years later, Rafsanjani is at it again with another revolting charm offensive, which looks more and more like a rehash of his 1989 campaign, tailored primarily for his Western audience.
The reoccurring fascination in the West with elections in Iran seems rather misplaced given that they are futile exercises aimed at legitimizing a rogue regime. The ruling regime consistently exploits the electoral process to generate an appearance of democracy only to camouflage its tyrannical theocracy so its apologists abroad can justify their lucrative commerce with Tehran.
In 1997, with hollow rhetoric about the “rule of law” and “civil society” at home and “dialogue among civilizations” abroad, Mohammed Khatami became the darling of the West. Indeed, Khatami’s presidency was the height of a delirium in Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin, which all suffered from a paralyzing notion that with “Ayatollah Gorbachev” at the helm, Iran was going to be on its way toward a major rehabilitation. The most fundamental fact about Iran was lost: Iran’s velayat-e faqih system of governance - the absolute rule of a cleric - is structurally and intrinsically incapable of democratic change. The notion of democracy co-existing with velayat-e faqih is a delusion whose propagation has only served to prolong the clerical rule.
The misreading of Khatami’s presidency was not just a futile exercise in political theory. It played a major role in perpetuating the notion that U.S. or EU diplomacy with Tehran might facilitate “change from within” the velayat-e faqih system. This cyclical fallacy has been repeated by the ayatollahs since the inception of their regime, apparently to perpetuate the lucrative concessions that accompany any policy of appeasement.
While Khatami was being given a red-carpet welcome in Europe, Tehran was relentlessly pursuing its secret nuclear weapons program and expanding its terror network across the globe. While fascination with Khatami’s citations of Western philosophers became fashionable in our policy circles, public executions, amputation of limbs and death by stoning inside Iran continued unabated.
As for Rafsanjani, his name and his two terms in office between 1989 and 1997 are synonymous with assassination of dissidents at home and abroad, increased sponsorship of terror attacks abroad (including in Saudi Arabia and Argentina) and financial corruption that pushed Iran’s economy into an abyss of inflation and unemployment. He was so disgraced at the end of his term that he could not even win a seat in the February 2000 parliamentary election.
By all accounts, the vast majority of Iranians will boycott the election farce. Don’t, however, expect the clerical regime to release the actual electoral participation numbers. There are reports that the clerical regime has already decided that the margin will be declared to be between 55 to 65 %, regardless of the actual voter turnout.
According to the online journal Iran Focus, “a nationwide survey of 1,730 adults eligible to vote conducted between May 27 and May 30, 2005, by the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), showed that 92 percent of voters intend to boycott the June 17 elections.”
“While the PMOI as an opposition group has clear interests in promoting a boycott of the polls, independent observers also believe that this year’s presidential election is a lackluster event that has failed so far to generate any interest among Iranians,” Iran Focus added.
Agence France Presse last week quoted a government official as saying, "For the first time in an opinion poll, 23 percent of the electorate is saying that they won't be voting. It's an important figure because ahead of the last presidential elections, just five percent of people said they wouldn't vote". And the inflated official figure of the last presidential election was pegged at a bogus 66 percent.
In another telltale report from Tehran, AFP reported that the ayatollahs “eager to prevent a boycott of the polls,” are “waging a war against enemies in the airwaves,” the opposition-run television channels. "It's as if they found a huge microwave oven, opened the door and switched it on. The microwaves are going out day and night," an Iranian satellite television technician explained to AFP.
Indeed, the microwave jamming signals are so strong that even the “local signals of state television, busy trying to drum up interest in the elections, have also suffered,” AFP added.
"Day and night, the opposition radio and television stations keep calling on our people to boycott the election," Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a top cleric, complained recently. The mullahs’ supreme leader Khamenei also warned Iranians that, “The enemies will use every means to discourage the electorate from taking part in the June 17 election".
Never before have the mullahs been so desperate to establish an appearance of legitimacy. Domestically, they are despised by the majority of Iranians, and internationally they are scorned for their campaign to acquire the A-bomb, sponsorship of terrorism, and sowing seeds of instability in Iraq.
In March 1990, one year into his first term, the “moderate” Rafsanjani mocked President Bush Sr. for taking a telephone call from someone posing as Rafsanjani. “America is very much in need of talking to Iran, and praise be to God, is deprived of this. Iran is so important that the biggest power in the world, the biggest bully on earth, tries to contact its officials by telephone,” Rafsanjani said. The hoax set up by Rafsanjani’s faction then sought to embarrass President Bush over the issue of American hostages in Lebanon. Sixteen years later, one wonders what new hoax Rafsanjani is working on to embarrass George W. Bush.
What is abundantly clear is that Rafsanjani will try to reinvent his image to preserve and perpetuate the clerical regime. But we shouldn’t expect his murderous methods and doubletalk to stop anytime soon.