Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Khatami era draws to a close

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - The Khatami era draws to a close: "The Khatami era draws to a close

By Majid Mohammadi
Special to The Daily Star
Monday, July 19, 2004
It is not too soon to talk about the next Iranian presidential election, given that the incumbent pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami's term expires in mid-2005. For the authoritarian camp, the next presidential election will be an opportunity to conquer the last trench of reformers in the government. For reformers, it will be another test to see how many of the population are still optimistic about the reforms promised by reformist politicians who believe in the foundations of the Islamic Republic and its constitution.

The end of the Khatami era involves the transformation of a mainly dyadic polity to a mostly triadic one; from the democrat-authoritarian dichotomy to a liberal democrat-Islamic democrat-authoritarian threesome. The split of authoritarians into totalitarians and non-totalitarians, stimulating hope among reformists of a crack in the administration of the so-called Leaders' Party (Abadgaran), is not a new development. Rafsanjani and his two satellite groups of Kargozaran-e Sazandegi (Construction Agents) and Etedal va Toiseh (Moderation and Development) Party are representatives of non-totalitarian authoritarianism in the country - both groups were founded in the 1990s. All the cliques around Khamenei are ideologically totalitarian, although they are not capable of organizing all their loyalists in an iron-fist-like party.

From the five most probable presidential election candidates - Hasan Rouhani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council; Ali Larijani, former head of Iran's state television and radio broadcast monopoly; Mahmood Ahmadi Nejad, Tehran's mayor, selected by a city council that has only 2 percent of Tehranis' votes; Mostafa Moin, former higher education minister; and Mohsen Rezai, former chief of the Revolutionary Guards - only Moin represents the democratic faction. Sayyed Reza Zavarei, a member of the Council of Guardians, will be a decorative candidate to superficially increase the number of candidates qualified by the council. Mehdi Karrubi, the former speaker of Parliament, and Sayyed Hadi Khamenei, a former MP and the supreme leader's brother, has no chance of standing as a candidate for reformist groups and parties, despite such groups' positive mutterings about his potential candidacy. While authoritarians are only thinking about a nocleric candidate, it is highly improbable that reformists would campaign with a cleric.

Some of the former members of Rafsanjani's administration have been talking about his candidacy, but it is now less probable than ever. One survey has shown that he has no chance of getting elected again. Khamenei does not want to see him in that position again. Khamenei is thinking about one of his loyal trusted operational agents without an independent political career. Larijani and Ahmadi completely represent the authoritarian/totalitarian approach. The aggressive policies of Ahmadi and Larijani have left only a very slim chance for Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser and former foreign minister, of being a good candidate for totalitarians; Rouhani and Rezai represent the authoritarian/non-totalitarian approach, both with security issues as their priorities. The news website sponsored by Rezai - Baztab - usually attacks Rouhani for the policies of the National Security Council. The suicide of Rouhani's son and the immigration of Rezai's son to the US are two negative points in the resumes of authoritarian candidates in the eyes of totalitarians.

No one will represent the liberal democrats who are increasingly differentiating themselves from Islamic democrats; they are sure that the Council of Guardians will disqualify their candidate. Therefore the next president will be elected by the votes of only 10 to 15 percent of the population in an election with a 25 to 35 percent turnout: 10 to 15 percent loyalists to authoritarians and totalitarians, 5 to 10 percent to moderates who will not make their ideologies and plans clear, and at most 10 percent loyalists to Islamic democrats. The silent majority will not participate negatively and will passively say "no" to the establishment. The municipal elections of 2003 and parliamentary elections of 2004 have already shown this trend. The electorate's periodical displeasure with their elected representatives over unfulfilled promises will consistently keep the turnout low. In spite of common concerns, liberal democrats cannot represent this silent majority due to disconnection, lack of organization and harsh policies of the establishment against them.

After Khatami, whose administration includes some factions of liberals as well as Islamic democrats, liberal democrats will not have any representatives in the Parliament or the administration. This will help them to build new coalitions and make their agendas clearer. Mosharekat (Participation) Party, which includes more liberal democrats than any other group of reformists has already stated its differences with the Militant Clergy Association and other Islamists of Second Khordad (May 22, the day of seventh presidential election) Front, and it is very probable this party will boycott the election. Moin can only represent the Islamic democratic section of this party.

The campaign agendas for the authoritarian camp will be the homogenization of power and its concentration in the hand of totalitarians, demolishing the last fortifications of reformists in the executive branch of government, and the monopolization of rents and privileges in the hands of Khamenei's loyalists. Islamic democrats will advocate the ideas of religious democracy and the rule of Islamic law that less and less people are ready to buy. Liberal democrats, though with no candidate, will talk more about republicanism, human rights and civil society - not the rule of law as it is drafted, passed and enforced in the Islamic Republic or reform in the framework of the existing constitution.

The silent majority of the electorate - the poor, people from provincial towns and the countryside, and now the disenfranchised - remains outside the concerns of political discourse. A majority of voters will no longer see the procedure of voting as an established routine for registering one's participation and satisfying one's religious and national duty; they believe no one is capable of reforming the system. As the recent surveys, elections and op eds show, most people, even reformists, think the reform movement is over. But the authoritarians hope a combination of public apathy, low participation and heavy vetting of potential candidates will help them win the presidential election, like what happened in the latest municipal and Parliamentary elections. They think about the strong possibility of capturing the presidential office next year. They may win in another rigged and flawed voting process. This will be another step toward rolling back the partially relaxed socio-cultural restrictions of the Khatami era.


Majid Mohammadi, an independent writer based in New York, has written books and articles on Iran and Islam (majidmohammadi@hotmail.com)."

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