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Iran: Youth Leader Discusses Recent Local Elections

Young Iranians voting in Tehran on December 15 (MNA) December 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The recent municipal elections in Tehran were a rejection of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, says student activist Mohammad Hashemi. Hashemi -- a leader of Daftare Tahkim Vahdat, Iran's largest reformist student organization -- spoke recently by phone from Tehran with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari.

RFE/RL: Some observers have said the elections showed that the people are rejecting "extremism "and that they are still in favor of reform. What do you think the message of the December 15 elections was?

Mohammad Hashemi: A coalition was formed -- including reformists -- that got together against a part of the establishment. It was similar to what happened during the [1997 election of Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami]. But the difference was that nine years after that a coalition, Iranian society had already experienced reform and that experience showed that one can't rely much on such coalitions, given that the part of the establishment that the coalition opposes is quite strong. It has all the necessary tools to control this movement.

"The vote was a 'no' to Ahmadinejad and his entourage, but it won't have a big impact on the political currents in the country," Hashemi said.

MORE: Coverage of the elections in Farsi from Radio Farda.

The election results show that reformists were, once again, not able to protect the votes they got. They faced serious problems right at this first step, and all of them protested against the way voting was conducted and the way the votes were counted. All of them believe there was election fraud. This happened at the first step and they will definitely face more serious problems in [the future].

I think the achievement of the elections is that the position of those who boycotted previous elections and who remained silent during last week's elections was confirmed -- in the Islamic republic's political structure one cannot really rely on election results. I think the reformists have also come to the same conclusion. From what I see and the talks I've had with them, I can say that many of them are having doubts now.

RFE/RL: You mentioned the coalition that was formed by various reformist groups. But some analysts say a new coalition is also taking shape between reformists and moderate or traditional conservatives at the expense of those described as extremists.

Hashemi: There were rumors about such a coalition, but in practice we have not seen many signs of it. Maybe there is hope they will form a coalition in the future, but it is highly unlikely. Even now you see that [moderate-conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer] Qalibaf has not taken any stance regarding the reformists complaints about the elections. Therefore, you cannot expect very much that they would have a coalition in the future. Moreover, they have totally different roots. I think these two sides have decided to remain silent about each other and not to oppose each other. But I don't think the atmosphere is right for a coalition. They might reach agreement on some issues, but I don't think it would last.

RFE/RL: Now, despite what is being described as election irregularities -- or even fraud -- the moderate conservatives and reformers took most of the votes, while Ahmadinejad's supporters and those on the so-called Good Scent of Service list have been defeated -- not only in Tehran, but also in several other cities. How do you think this might affect the political situation in the country?

Hashemi: I think these developments are the results of the work of Ahmadinejad. His work in the past year has been such that it has brought opposition even from traditional conservatives within the establishment. We have seen in many cases that even legislators who used to support him are becoming critical. I don't see this as a movement. Rather, I see it as a negative view of Ahamdinejad's performance. I don't think it will bring any changes in the political [scene]. The vote was a "no" to Ahmadinejad and his entourage, but it won't have a big impact on the political currents in the country.

RFE/RL: Will it affect the government and its policies?

Hashemi: Today Ahmadinejad and the small team that works with him are alone, and the only reason the establishment doesn't act against Ahmadinejad is to prevent a crisis. Under the current conditions, Ahmadinejad cannot really take strong stances because he know he's alone within the establishment.

A student burns a portrait of President Ahmadinejad during a protest on December 11 (Fars)

They are just trying to get through the remaining three years of his presidency without a crisis, since they cannot really act against him or dismiss him.

RFE/RL: How will the results affect the reformist camp? Although, as you said, they were not able to protect their votes, they were relatively successful. Do you think this will encourage them and boost their confidence?

Hashemi: I'm not very hopeful for two reasons. One is that the reformers expected they would capture more seats -- many expected that seven or eight of their candidates would become members of the [Tehran city] council. Although the relatively high turnout could have helped them, only four of their candidates were elected. In addition, they will lose some of their support because they weren't able to have healthy elections and safeguard their votes. This is one thing.

The second thing is that the main problem will come right after the new city council is formed. The reformers will not really be able to work in the new council. You know that Tehran's city government is tied to revolutionary and other bodies within the establishment. More than 80 percent of city construction projects are being done by the Revolutionary Guard. The guard would definitely not want to carry out projects for a council that is run by reformers. Therefore, the reformers would either not be able to accept responsibilities in the council and, if they do, things would get even worse because they will not be able to move forward their projects. Therefore, I don't think the reformers will be able to achieve anything through the results of the city council elections.

The Structure Of Iran's Government

The Structure Of Iran's Government

INSIDE THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC: Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic governed under a 1979 constitution that was revised in 1989, when presidential powers were expanded and the prime minister's post was abolished.
Appointed -- not elected -- offices and bodies hold the real power in the government. The supreme leader, who serves as a chief of state would, is appointed for life by an Islamic religious advisory board that is called the Assembly of Experts. The supreme leader oversees the military as well as the judiciary and appoints members of the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council.
The Guardians Council -- some of whose members are appointed by the judiciary and approved by the parliament -- works closely with the government and must approve political candidates and legislation passed by the parliament. The Expediency Council is responsible for resolving legislative disputes that may arise between parliament and the Guardians Council over legislation.
The president, who is popularly elected for a four-year term, serves as the head of government. The legislative branch is made up of a 290-seat body called the Majlis, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms...(more)


RFE/RL's coverage of Iran.