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Iran's Parliamentary Elections Could Spell End For Ahmadinejad

Happier days? Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) casts his vote at a polling station during previous parliamentary elections in 2008.
Happier days? Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) casts his vote at a polling station during previous parliamentary elections in 2008.
By Golnaz Esfandiari
The Iranian opposition didn't get their wish in 2009 when they took to the streets to contest the results of Iran's presidential election.

The disputed winner, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, drowned out calls for his ouster and has remained seated as president.

But nearly three years later, elections for the country's 290-seat parliament could go a long way toward determining whether his remaining time in office will be spent as a lame duck.

The March 2 vote could not unseat Ahmadinejad, of course; and with no reformist voice in the poll there is no doubt that the conservative establishment will rule the day.

But it is within that establishment that cracks have emerged, and where analysts suggest that Ahmadinejad's opponents are poised to make gains.

READ: Early returns hinted at gains for the president's conservative foes

Ahmadinejad's star began to fade last year after he encroached on the domain of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose word is what ultimately holds sway in the Islamic republic.

Weak And Isolated

The president's attempt to exert his office's authority was successfully beaten back, and left Ahmadinejad increasingly weakened and isolated.

The more traditional bloc within the conservative camp labeled the president's inner circle as a "deviant current" and accused it of undermining the clerical establishment.

Some of Ahmadinejad's closest advisers were detained, while his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was linked to a massive bank fraud. His media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was sentenced to jail for insulting the supreme leader.

READ: Voting Gets Under Way In Iran

Ahmadinejad himself was publicly humiliated in April when Khamenei reinstated the country's intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, after the president attempted to dismiss him.

Now, observers believe Khamenei loyalists are determined to silence the president's faction in the halls of parliament.

'Defeated Even Before The Vote'

Washington-based Ali Afshari, a former student leader in Iran, believes Ahmadinejad's supporters will not fare well in the election on March 2.

"Despite previous predictions and expectations, Ahmadinejad's allies have acted very weakly which could signal that Ahmadinejad's faction has been, in a way, defeated even before the vote," he says.
Former Iranian student activist Ali AfshariFormer Iranian student activist Ali Afshari
Former Iranian student activist Ali Afshari
Former Iranian student activist Ali Afshari

With no political parties in Iran, determining where parliamentarians' loyalties truly lie is a tricky business.

But there are a number of signs that support the idea that Ahmadinejad's camp is not in an advantageous position.

His allies running for parliament have been forced to keep a low profile in order to escape disqualification by Iran's powerful Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates.

Nevertheless, many pro-presidential candidates, including more than 20 in Tehran, have reportedly been barred from running.

Ahmadinejad's supporters have concentrated mostly on smaller cities and rural areas, where his power base lies.

Potential Betrayal

A list of the president's supporters, released just a few days before the crucial vote, does not include many prominent names. And even if they do manage to earn seats in the next parliament, according to Paris-based political analyst and journalist Reza Alijani, it is no certainty that the president can depend on their support.

Alijani leaves open the possibility that some could turn against the president, as have some of his loyalists in the past.

"They face two problems," he says.
Analyst and journalist Reza AlijaniAnalyst and journalist Reza Alijani
Analyst and journalist Reza Alijani
Analyst and journalist Reza Alijani
"One is that they don't have enough manpower and candidates despite their financial and political resources.

"The other is that they want to use forces from the security, military apparatus, and even if they make it to the parliament and use the government as a launching pad, they are not likely to remain loyal to Ahmadinejad, except perhaps for a few.

"Their compass will be strong and turning toward the source of power: Khamenei and his office."

Ruthless Face Of Power

Alireza Nader, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, reckons that, even if the president's faction holds its ground, Ahmadinejad still has little chance of regaining the influence he once had.

"One of the mistakes Ahmadinejad made was to assume that he has a natural power base in Iran," he says.

"He is a populist but Ahmadinejad became president really because of Khamenei's support and the support of the Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC).... Without their support he can't count on a lot of popular support.

"I think his influence is rather limited even if he gets his allies into parliament. I don't think it's going to count as much as he would like it to."

The stakes couldn't be higher for Ahmadinejad, especially considering that in the past Khamenei has signaled that Iran could move toward getting rid of the role of president altogether.

Washington-based Afshari doesn't see the direst of scenarios playing out for Ahmadinejad, but he doesn't paint a rosy picture for the president during his last four years in office either.

"It seems that the goal of [Supreme Leader Khamenei] and his allies is to tolerate him until the end of his presidency," he says. "But Ahmadinejad as an important current in Iran's power structure is nearing his end."

According to Alijani in Paris, that is the price the 56-year-old Ahmadinejad is paying for defying Khamenei.

"He resisted at first, but with the arrests and the pressure on his circle he experienced the ruthless face of power in Iran for himself." He says.

"It was then, I believe, that the attempts of Ahmadinejad's clique to pave the way for securing the future presidency started to fail and the countdown to the end of his rule began."
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Comment Sorting
by: Topastro from: Switzerland
March 01, 2012 23:14
Any prediction for anything in Iran is a pretension, for me, as a westerner, non believer, not being in the know.
I'm just waiting and fearing, once more, the worst.
I just wish, this election would open an unforeseen option for the better. But I am not so cockish, to dream about it. I got humble, so humble, about all this dreams.. and I looked up history, how, sometimes, it takes centuries, to make changes to take place. And I do ask myself, what I can contribute to make people feel strong, what can make people feel affirmed and assured in a world, that seems to take everything of them.
I just hope and pray, joining the prayers of all feeling people of this world.

by: Anonymot from: Paris
March 01, 2012 23:25
You quote 2 exiled Iranians. What do you expect them to do, embrace the regime? Then you indulge in the usual wishful thinking. Please. Try a bit of balanced journalism. The reason we got into the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan is partly the Israeli extremist influence, partly theidiots in Washington who listened to exiled Afghans and Iraquis, remember?
In Response

by: David Edick Jr from: San Diego, California
March 02, 2012 07:04
Agreed. Well-research journalism is vital when it comes to informing the public on Iran. In this article about politics I am suprised to find no mention of one set of rather intelligent policies from the Ahmadinezhad regime: the replacement of subsidies with direct payments to low-income families. In addition to being smart economics it also looks to be a vote-winner among working class and rural voters. Comments?

by: M. Bakhtiar from: England
March 02, 2012 01:01
Sir, with due respect to your panel of experts on Iran, these contributors always seem to have this nag of expressing outlandish personal opinions in the name of facts. Contradiction after contradictions, as usual: "I think his influence is rather limited even if he gets his allies into parliament. I don't think it's going to count as much as he would like it to”. Having been knocked down once too many, and he is no longer enjoys the respect and confidence of the supreme leader, as your article seems to be suggesting. The difficulty, of course, I have to understand is this, will president Ahmadinedjad, “a lame-duck president” with a damaged and considerably weaken political power-base to manage to keep the number of parliamentary-seats held by his supporters after tomorrow's election? Is he, or, is he not? As an Iranian, living abroad, I do not fully support the Islamic Republic as the basis of governing political/social structure of our country. Nor, do I ever, support this [mishmash] self-appraising 'intellectuals', which your radio-program seems too happy to offer them a cozy platform to declare their pathetic existence as a viable political opposition and an alternative to the IR. Moreover, Mr. Ahmadinedjad, he might not have come across as a typically pretentious and Western-type-looking head of a government. He may have strong ideology or the kind of a political mindset not to the liking of those politicians in the West. But, President Ahmadinedjad, is a genuine political article: most descent as human being, hard working, and proven to be an effective operator and loyal servant to the people of his country; something that sadly and very rarely, one can say the same about politicians in the West. We are totally aware of the fact that, your job is primarily to criticize and attack whatever authorities do in Tehran, because, you operate as an avenue for the West's interests, and are being paid by the West. If you are really interested in the welfare of Iran, and have the country’s interests at heart, my advice to you people is, to try to be more objective and fair in your analysis.

by: Reza
March 02, 2012 01:32
Thank you for interviewing Iranian experts who know the country and follow the events closely. Reza Alijani is one of the best. Unfortunately we don't hear his voice in most Western media who keep talking to the same usual suspects.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 02, 2012 08:45
Ahmadinejad is like Fidel: no matter what happens, the smart western commentators are just looking for one thing - how to present what is happening as something leading to his end.
In this manner, Fidel has died already like about 20.000 times in the last 50 years, and Ahmadinejad has always been on the verge of an electoral defeat or something else that would put an end to his political carreer.
It's just that some people really prefer to live in the virtual world that they have created for themselves, rather than in the real one - where Ahmadinejad was,continues being and will remain the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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