Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moderates* Seize the Initiative

Khamenei seems to have been forced to backtrack, ceding the initiative somewhat to Rafsanjani, implicitly rejecting the hard line stand of extremists, and leaving Ahmadinejad in an embarrassing position. The election merits investigation after all.

Immediate Post-Election Reaction.

Shortly after the election, all three losing candidates claimed irregularities in the election totaling over 600. Personal adviser to Khamenei and Parliament Speaker Larijani charged the leadership with bias:

Iran's Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Ali Larijani suggests that some of the members in the Guardian Council have sided with a certain candidate in the June 12 presidential election.

Speaking live on the Islamic
Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Saturday, the speaker said that "a majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced."

"The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants," he was quoted as saying by Khabaronline -- a website affiliated with him.

In contrast, Khamenei described Ahmadinejad’s victory as “definitive” while President Ahmadinejad and his Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli “rejected any possibility of fraud.”

Last Three Days.

On Thursday, the Guardian Council, a 12-member senior governmental oversight group of clerics that serves the clergy by defining the limits of “democracy” allowed to the regular governmental bureaucracy (including the president and the parliament), announced that it would form a special committee to investigate the election.

On Saturday, Press TV reported that the Expediency Council, a body that advises senior leader Khamenei that is headed by ex-President Rafsanjani, called on “all to observe the law and resolve conflicts and disputes (concerning the election) through legal channels” and to “use this appropriate opportunity to submit their documents and evidence for a comprehensive and precise investigation.” Rafsanjani took a markedly softer line that Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami took the day before. Note also Rafsanjani’s priceless “come on, guys, will you knock it off; we’re talking about the country’s future here” expression in the Press TV report.

In a move that fit so smoothly with Rafsanjani’s call for “legal channels” as to suggest prior coordination, Mousavi (pictured by Press TV as thoughtful and serious), called for, in the words of the report:

an independent and legal committee, which would be accepted by all presidential contenders and supported by senior clerics, would pursue and settle the issues that sparked protests after the June 12 presidential election.

Mousavi has now moved off the streets and is publicly negotiating through legal channels. How will Ahmadinejad manage to portray him as a dupe of the West now?

A more serious issue—whether Rafsanjani and Mousavi are, as has been charged, representing the rich—remains open to question. It appears that many of Iran’s poor genuinely support Ahmadinejad despite his economic incompetence and dangerous baiting of Western extremists. From the perspective of which faction would be most effective at creating a stable, responsible, effective Iranian polity, things are far less clear than their typical Western portrayal would suggest. At a minimum, it does seem clear that the elite sees the situation as serious and that a significant split has opened between those urging harsh crackdown and those searching for a compromise that will both preserve the current system and offer space for all leading factions.

Note: Press TV has been described as “pro-reform” and “not government-run.” Whatever the truth of those remarks and whatever the degree of press freedom that has existed in the Islamic Republic here-to-fore, Press TV seems to be carrying relatively neutral coverage of the various sides in the electoral dispute. At a minimum, this suggests that at the moment press freedom in Iran is quite significant. By way of comparison, Americans concerned about U.S. media groupthink since 9/11 on such issues as Israeli behavior toward Palestinians and Iranian nuclear rights might view the degree of press freedom in Iran with some envy.

* "Moderates" is a loaded term which I use without any implications for attitude toward the U.S., toward the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, or toward nuclear policy. By "moderates" I simply mean those elite actors who take an inclusive attitude toward the continued political participation of adversaries in the current system and who, perhaps, hope that the Iranian system will evolve slowly in the direction of greater rule of law.

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