06 May 2009

Iran: election watch

In the weeks that remain until the Iranian elections on 12 June I will attempt to provide some helpful interpretive comment about the significance of developments during the campaign itself, and about its outcome.

For those who would like to follow it for themselves, I commend the English-language Iranian website Iran's Election 2009, which provides a progressive record of media comments by or about the various candidates or potential candidates.

For those who would like to find out a bit more about the context in which this election takes place, I would recommend Ray Takeh’s very accessible and readable Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (Times Books, 2006). For those who would like to understand the history of over a century of democracy in Iran, an important recent book is Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Democracy in Iran, Oxford University Press, 2006.

By the way, while this is an important election, it is not as important as some would have us believe. It matters to us all who is, in effect, the Chief Executive Officer of Iran, but it needs to be understood that while the President is the public face of Iran he does not have his hands on the levers of Iranian strategic policy – or perhaps more correctly if he looks like using them in a way that is not approved by the clerical leadership he will get a sharp rap on the knuckles. Under the system of velayat-e faqih (roughly rule by Islamic jurist) which Ayatollah Khomeini invented for himself, the Supreme Leader has virtually unlimited responsibilities, is empowered to control the armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards, dismiss any elected official, countermand parliamentary legislation and declare war and peace.

This is why the mild-mannered Reformist President Mohammad Khatami was by his own account able to achieve less than he would have liked (see Dr Khatami at AIIA Victoria) and why, for all his extravagant language, which is mainly directed at domestic audiences and the Arab “street”, Mr Ahmadinajad will always be able to do less than we are encouraged by the Israeli right and the U.S. neo-cons to fear. The real power lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, who there is good reason to believe has an interest in a more productive relationship with the United States (see Reading Khamene'i in Tehran).

No comments: