Iran election highlights deepening power struggle (REUTERS) By Parisa Hafezi TEHRAN, IRAN 02/28/12 11:14am EST)
Reuters News Service
Reuters News Service Articles-Index-Top
(Reuters) - Iran´s parliamentary election this Friday is a
potentially decisive battle in the struggle between political and
religious hardliners, but it is unlikely to alter Tehran´s stand on
its deadlock with the West over its nuclear program.
It will be the first poll since the country´s disputed presidential
election in 2009, which led to eight months of bloody street protests
by Iranians demanding reform.
The ballot takes place as the dispute with the West over Iran´s
nuclear program is growing alongside concerns that Israel might
attack it over suspicions of developing atomic weapons. Tehran says
the nuclear work it to generate power.
With leading reformists snubbing the vote and with the outcome
unlikely to force a nuclear re-think, its main significance is the
contest between two rival hardline factions, loyalists to Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Both sides have put their fingers on the triggers and are ready to
fire. They will lay their guns on the ground if they reach a
compromise," political analyst Hamid Farahvashian said.
The result will demonstrate which camp is stronger and will have a
bearing on a presidential election next year.
The clerical establishment needs a high turnout to show its
legitimacy and popularity, badly damaged after the 2009 election and
ensuing anti-government unrest.
"Not leaving anything to chance, Khamenei loyalists need a majority
in parliament to obstruct the likely chances of Ahmadinejad´s allies
winning the 2013 vote," Farahvashian said.
A critical assembly could weaken Ahmadinejad and his supporters for
the rest of his term, he said.
Analysts say Khamenei supporters are sure to win the majority as he
has around 20 million backers around the country.
"My prediction is that we will have an assembly dominated by Khamenei
loyalists and a minority made up of Ahmadinejad supporters,"
political analyst Babak Sadeghi said.
Supporters of both leaders portray their leaders as the most capable
of defending the legacy of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the
father of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed
The struggle began when Ahmadinejad tried to supersede Khamenei in
Iran´s complex political hierarchy in which the Supreme Leader has
held total authority since the founding of the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei is Iran´s second Supreme Leader.
Since Ahmadinejad´s re-election to a second term in 2009, which
Khamenei initially endorsed, the growing influence of his circle has
alarmed the Supreme Leader and his supporters.
Khamenei loyalists accuse Ahmadinejad of trying to undermine his
position by involving himself in theocratic issues, traditionally the
Supreme Leader´s own preserve.
An alliance of establishment groups - the Revolutionary Guards,
powerful clerics, influential merchants and hardline politicians -
have united to block Ahmadinejad´s allies from winning the vote.
Dozens of Ahmadinejad allies have been detained or dismissed from
their posts for being linked to a "deviant current" that his rivals
say aims to weaken the role of the clergy.
"For the Supreme Leader, preserving the integrity of the clerical
establishment is of utmost concern," said a relative of
Khamenei, who asked not to be named.
The volume of verbal threats has also increased against Ahmadinejad,
with Khamenei threatening to eliminate the position of president.
But Ahmadinejad has ways to fight back. The interior ministry, in
charge of conducting the elections, can declare the results null and
void, analysts say.
Whatever the outcome, real power on vital issues such as Iran´s
nuclear program and relations with the United States remains solely
in the hands of the Supreme Leader.
Some argue that the establishment ultimately needs Ahmadinejad to
survive, particularly when Iran is under international pressure over
its nuclear activities and faces a tightening web of sanctions and
threats of U.S. or Israeli military action against its nuclear sites.
"His dismissal could increase pressure on Iran and also encourage the
opposition to take to the streets. It will weaken the establishment,"
political analyst Sadeghi said.
Meanwhile, Western sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to make
concessions on the nuclear issue have started to hurt energy and food
imports. Many Iranians blame Ahmadinejad´s policies for soaring
Rivals say he has left Iran internationally isolated and a victory
for his camp would bring more pressure on the economy.
Critics say cuts in food and fuel subsidies, replaced by direct
monthly payments of around $38 per person since 2010, have fuelled
inflation, officially running at around 21 percent.
Concerned by economic difficulties, many Iranians are hesitant to
vote for candidates allied to the president.
"I can no longer afford my family´s expenses. Even the price of bread
has tripled. Ahmadinejad promised to bring the oil money to our
tables but instead he has taken away even bread," said teacher Reza,
57, a father of three.
The son of a blacksmith whose humble image still scores well with
Iran´s poor masses, Ahmadinejad still enjoys support in small towns
and villages in Iran, particularly because of his handouts of
But his image has been tainted by the country´s biggest banking
scandal, which was made public with Khamenei´s approval.
Some politicians have linked Ahmadinejad´s close advisers to the lead
suspect in the $2.6 billion scam, claiming part of the money had been
earmarked for the election campaign of Ahmadinejad allies. He denies
any government wrongdoing.
"I voted for Ahmadinejad in 2009 because I thought he was decent. But
with this fraud I will not trust any politician again and I will not
vote," said shop-keeper Habib, 28, in the central town of Damavand.
The election is unlikely to herald a change in fortune for the reform
Pro-reform political parties have been banned since the 2009
election, which the opposition says was rigged.
Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have been
under house arrest since February 2011 and many reformists have
either been jailed or banned from political activities.
Iranian authorities, while publicly hailing the Arab Spring revolts,
are concerned that they could spill into Iran and have warned against
any revival of the unrest of 2009. (Editing by Angus MacSwan) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 02/28/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY