20090614

Ahmadinejad Alienates Iranian People Today, Iranian Clerics Tomorrow

Iran reformers were denied their "Yes We Can" moment or at least, a second round against the incumbent at the Presidential elections.

To Mahmoud Ahmadinejad I'd say "yes, you can" remain in power thanks to such disgraceful methods but no, you can't declare yourself a winner. Because somehow, you put an end to the 1979 Revolution and alienated, beyond half of the great Iranian people, the clerics who allowed this political suicide.

The problem with official election results is that they look too perfect to be true :

. Ahmadinejad's 62.63% are high enough to avoid controversies about a potential second round, and low enough to avoid embarrassing comparisons with dictator plebiscites in banana republics or stalinian states... or even Bush approval rates in Midland, TX.

. in a model democracy you need a significant opposition, and considering the success of his campaign as well as all polls published before election day, Mir-Hossein Mousavi couldn't decently claim less than one third of ballots. Done, but not by much (33.75%).

Great, but that leaves us with only a few votes to split between the remaining two candidates. And we want to keep the same 2 to 1 ratio in favor of conservatives against reformers... so be it : 1.73% for Roshen Rezaee and 0.85% for Mehdi Karroubi !

Don't get me wrong : I expected Ahmadinejad to come first at the first round, leveraging on his position at the entry point of elections, for the registration. He was bound to get a massive turnout in rural regions, struggling only against candidates with a local stronghold. But a second round was more than likely.

The turnout exploded (85% vs 62.6% in 2005), but Mousavi contributed a lot to it while mobilising younger generations. With 13.2 M votes, he weighs twice as much as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at the first round four years ago (the old leader campaigned for him). But Ahmadinejad's score seems extreme (even in rural areas - 75% according to the IRNA / Islamic Republic News Agency), and Karroubi's simply impossible : 300,000 ballots for a man who claimed over 5 millions at the 2005 presidential elections and was expected to finish significantly ahead of Rezaee ?

In a press conference broadcasted live on international channels (NB: CNN winning over BBC for the Farsi to English interpretation), Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli exposed the smoking gun : in the same speech, he delivered extremely precise results at the national level, and announced further delays in the publication of regional results.

Officially, the announcement has to be done by each region, but the message seems obvious :

- leave us some time to give our "top down" decree some illusion of "bottom up" consistency.

- there will necessarily be some inconsistencies hard to swallow for the opposition (you can't explain quantum physics with classic physics), but we would consider them minor and local, and they wouldn't threaten the national results

Always the vigilant Juan Cole* already pointed out a few aberrations : "Ahmadinejad's numbers were fairly standard across Iran's provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations", the Lur Karroubi failing in Luristan, the Azeri Mir-Hossein Mousavi in Azerbaïdjan... Mahsouli did announce a victory of the latter in Tehran, though.

Unsurprisingly, opposition turned into resistance as soon as the first results were published.

Violence, arrests, censorship... unsurprisingly, Ahmadinejad confirmed his
fundamentalist nature : his main targets are neither Israeli nor Americans but Iranian moderates.

His 2005 victory was already a felony but here, the clash seems final. Something is broken for good, and beyond the trust between some Iranians and their president.

Dragging along with him down to illegitimacy the clerics who let him go this far, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may simply have put an end to the 1979 Revolution :

- as a former Prime Minister of Khomeini, Mousavi was paradoxically in the best position to extend the regime's legitimacy even as he pushed reforms

- by alienating Iran youth, religious leaders deprived themselves of a future

- worse : their destiny is now intimately linked to a man who is not even one of them. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cannot hide anymore behind this joker : he is more than ever responsible for whatever Ahmadinejad does.

- Ahmadinejad wins but the cleric system loses - exactly like the 2004 US elections, when Bush's victory meant the end of the GOP

This President and this system cannot go on forever together and a divorce seems ineluctable. And the more Ayatollahs stick to their suicidal posture, the nastier the separation will be.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has never looks so strong, nor Iran so weak since 1979.

Exactly as the world needs a stable and consistent Iran.

Of course, repression can succeed in the short term, but Iran may have soon to choose between the unity of the country and the survival of a regime. Right now, Ahmadinejad is compelled to enter one way or another unknown territories : even only in apparence, he must somewhat offer some positive change in the balance. And the easiest path seems on the international stage.


* see "Informed Comment" : "
Stealing the Iranian Election"

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