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As Tensions Simmer Between Israel and Iran, Are the Iranian Elections a Sham?

Posted on the 02 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
As tensions simmer between Israel and Iran, are the Iranian elections a sham?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the way out? Photo credit: Daniella Zalcman

Legislative elections in Iran have opened, to fill up the 290 seats in parliament. Iran’s main opposition groups are boycotting them. It’s the first nationwide poll since 2009, when current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won – in a disputed election.  48 million Iranians are expected to vote in what will be seen as a test of support for Ahmadinejad. International observers will not be present.

The Supreme Leader, reported The Daily Telegraph, Ali Khameini, presented the poll as “part of Iran’s showdown with the West.” They are, continued the Telegraph, basically an internecine struggle between Ahmadinejad’s supporters, and even more hardline conservatives. Commentators agree that the elections are a sham, as the opposition is arbitrarily jailed and as Revolutionary Guards force people to polling stations. Ahmadinejad, though he has the support of the rural poor, has lost that of Khameini and the clerical elite. So what happens next? Expect more of the same, as Iran continues its anti-Western rhetoric.

It comes as the West has imposed sanctions on Iran, and as Israel has threatened military action over Iran’s nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it “continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.” As tensions rise, President Obama was heckled during a fundraiser when a supporter shouted at him: “Use your leadership! No war on Iran!” The President, reported Devin Dwyer on ABC News, replied: “No one’s annouced a war, young lady.” Obama is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next week.

The view from Iran? The Iranian state-sponsored news site Fars claimed that polling stations were seeing “high public participation”, even despite “massive negative propaganda launched by the western media.”

A shambles. Areshir Amir-Arjomand on The New York Times said that Iranian elections have only twice reflected “the people’s will.” First, in 1997, when Mohammad Khatami was elected, and in 2009, when the reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi of the Green Movement  “polled strongly” – but had the election stolen “through fraud.” Since 2010 the ruling party’s used “force, intimidation and fear” to suppress protest. This election is a “farce” – the Revolutionary Guards and the militia will be dragging men to vote “with prepared lists of the votes they should cast.” Most of the opposition lies in jail; reformists have declared they don’t recognize this election. All it will do is fill the posts with people who’ll “simply do the bidding of the ruling elite.” The West isn’t helping, either, as sanctions only hurt ordinary people, whilst the threat of war is a boon for the ruling party.

No change. There won’t be street protests, said Time’s Global Spin blog, as there were in 2009. By staying away, the opposition will “weaken the regime’s efforts to showcase electoral turnout as a sign of the popular legitimacy they claim.” The contest will still be vicious though. Ahmadinejad no longer has Khameini’s support, since the former wants to shift power from the clergy to the government. He’s in the elections “on the defensive.” These elections won’t effect the “nuclear standoff,” either. That’s one point on which everyone agrees.

Litmus test. It will indeed, said The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan on the Iran blog, be a “litmus test” for legitimacy as war looms. The regime’s supporters have even issued a religious ruling that says “not voting would be a sin.” The wife of one of the assassinated scientists has publicly appealed; leaders have said they’ll consider those who boycott to be criminals.

Could there be war? It’s unlikely that we will go to war, said Andrew Bast on The Daily Beast. Israel has been strafing, “amplifying threats to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.” Whilst the US is more willing to compromise, Israel isn’t. “Obama and Netanyahu may be marching in the same parade, but they are not in lockstep.” But Obama can’t support Israeli military action. A war would be disastrous, politically, for Obama. But Obama can play it well with Netanyahu: if Iran builds a nuclear weapon, Israel’s already got a deterrent. Jerusalem knows it has support from American firepower – which Iran could never stand up to. And Iran is a “rational actor.” Iran doesn’t want to “invite its own annihilation.”

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