Iran Elections and Hope for the People

Iran elections

In just three days, Friday, Iran will be holding a general election.  It is crucial to say that this particular election is the most important in the nation’s history, and a new source of hope for its people.

In 2009, the election that placed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the presidency, was marred by stuffing ballot boxes with millions of non-existent votes.  The result was rioting by the people, and imprisonment of Ahmadinejad’s opponents, where many remain to this day.

Sadly, one of the results of the 2009 election, is a reluctance, and even a certain apathy among voters, that this election will be different.

There is a bright spot for the people of Iran.  They have a true opposition candidate who is not a chosen candidate of the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In Iran, those who are allowed to have their names placed on the ballot are chosen by the Ayatollah and his hard line religious clerics.  Former president and moderate reformer Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani saw his name removed.  Also not on the ballot is Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s chosen successor.

Iran’s battered reformists have thrown their weight behind Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric favoring openness and improved relations with the west, who has emerged as the dark horse candidate in Friday’s presidential election.

Rouhani has received the endorsements of Rafsanjani, and another former president and leader of the reform movement, Mohammad Khatami.

There was another reform candidate on the ballot, Mohammad Reza Aref, but he withdrew Monday at Khatami’s request to avoid a split vote among reformers.  The ballots will have eight candidates, most of them loyalists favored by both the theocracy and the military.

The reform party’s efforts will be focused on one issue, voter turnout.  Much of Iran’s population believe that elections in their country are both un-free and unfair.  Analysts believe that if there is a high voter turnout, Rouhani will win.

Several questions remain, the most important of which is the lack of confidence that the Supreme Leader will allow a fair election.  Those well versed in the politics of Iran now believe that the ruling clerics will not change the results of the election.  Already under United Nations sanctions, Iran’s ruling party is fearful of continued economic difficulty.  They are also seeking approval of their plans to continue construction of nuclear facilities, which they claim are for peaceful purposes.

Hamid Reza Shokouhi, an editor at the pro-reform Mardomsalari newspaper, said Aref’s withdrawal could boost turnout.

“It not only will move his supporters in favor of Rowhani, but it will also convince disappointed voters who didn’t want to vote,” said Shokouhi, adding that many had planned to boycott since “they saw no chance for either Aref or Rowhani to make it to the run-off because of the vote split.”

The opinions of the electorate vary.

Morteza Moradpour, a student, said “Aref’s withdrawal can boost reformists very much because now reformists have one joint choice and can run more unified.”

But Rahim Kazemi, a shopkeeper, said, “We would love to see Aref in the race because if there were a runoff he stood a better chance. I think now that he has withdrawn from the race many may not go to ballot boxes.”

“Rowhani will let women have a greater role and freedom in society,” said Shohreh Ghasemi, a nurse in Tehran. “Other candidates just urge women to sit at home waiting for to deliver another  baby.”

It is generally believed that Saeed Jalili is Khamenei’s chosen successor.  But in a debate on Friday, he was challenged by Ali Akbar Velayati, a conservative figure who advises Khamenei on foreign policy.

“What people are seeing, Mr Jalili, is that you have not gone forward even one step [in nuclear negotiations], and the pressure of international sanctions still exists. The art of diplomacy is to preserve our nuclear rights, not to see sanctions increase,” Velayati said in comments that surprised many viewers.

The reformist party says that no organized boycott exists, and are hoping voters will come out in large numbers.  This election offers hope for the people of Iran.  They have a chance to remove an oppressive ruling party, but they have to vote.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express

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