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Iran Heads for Less Than Fair Elections, Expert Says

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has weakened Iran's economy, but the reformist parties can't benefit from his mistakes in the parliamentary elections, said Iranian political scientist and journalist Behrouz Khosrozadeh.

Election brochures in Iran

There aren't many faces from the opposition among the candidates

Behrouz Khosrozadeh is an Iranian political scientist and journalist living in Germany. He spoke to DW-WORLD.DE about the upcoming Iranian election.

DW-WORLD.DE: A large number of candidates, particularly from the reformist parties, have been rejected by the electoral commissions. As a result, the reformists aren't likely to build up a strong faction in parliament. Can we even really talk about "elections" in this case?

Behrouz Khosrozadeh: The Islamic Republic is neither a genuine dictatorship nor a totalitarian regime. However, elections in a theocracy in general, and in the eighth parliamentary session in particular, aren't free. The election monitor, the Council of Guardians and the Ministry of the Interior have carried out the most extensive manipulation in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The seventh parliamentary elections took place during Mohammad Khatami's presidency [1997-2005]. The elections are only free in that the opposition can be present in parliament via an inferior faction without any influence.

Despite their original statements to the contrary, some reformist parties close to former President Khatami now want to participate. How reasonable are their arguments and what do they stand to achieve?

The pragmatic-reformist camp surrounding [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani and Khatami expected manipulation by the Council of Guardians and Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry. But no one was prepared for them to go as far as filtering out 90 percent of the opposition candidates. The reformists actually had big hopes of winning back the legislature.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad became president in 2005

Ahmadinejad's persistent national debt and the extremely weak seventh parliament, which is dominated by faithful conservative party members, didn't leave the conservatives with a chance to win the election if it were to be freely held. The opposition should have known that the conservatives didn't have a choice other than using the legal -- yet unfair -- means at their disposal, which is what the conservatives did. Looking at it this way, the reformists have shown a tremendous amount of unprofessionalism, abstruseness and helplessness.

Still, the reformers want to be present in parliament because they don't have many other official public forums. They're looking ahead to the next presidential election and don't want to surrender the parliament completely to the conservatives.

It's seems to be a three-way race between supporters of Ahmadinejad, the reformers and a new conservative faction, which has developed as an alternative to the two traditional camps. How serious is the cleft between the conservatives and will the three-party situation have an impact on Iran's political landscape over the next few months and years?

This cleft began with Ahmadinejad's presidency. But it won't keep the conservatives from bolstering Ahmadinejad's government from the criticisms of the opposition. The religious leader Khamenei also continues to stand behind the president. But I think that the critical conservatives -- which have separate lists of candidates with some overlap -- are considering a somewhat more acceptable solution that features a smart, conservative figure who presents himself as future-oriented and less aggressive to both domestically and internationally.

The conservatives know that they don't have a future with Ahmadinejad. All the statistical and demographic indicators point to a still latent but explosive mood among the population. This is a result of Ahmadinejad's economic policies. In Tehran, due to an oil price of over $100 per barrel, no one understands the growing poverty. The prominent conservative Ahmad Tavakoli described Ahmadinejad's economic policies as a "ship without a compass."

The warnings of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Army's chief ideologist Hassan Abbasi speak volumes: "The dissatisfaction of the population and social problems are much more dangerous than an attack by the US."

Getting back to the question, I think the conservatives will change their course away from an aggressive conservatism to a smarter one within the context of the Islamic Republic, which could be represented by the current parliamentary president Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel. It's about the very survival of the Islamic Republic.

Ballot

The vote is on Friday, March 14

Some have said that Iran's structure and constitution wouldn't allow for serious reforms. Do you share this opinion?

Yes and no. The political system in the Islamic Republic did have a reform-oriented president for two terms, even if he was continually hindered by the conservatives. The reformists largely dominated the sixth parliament.

Today, the reformists are paying the price for their strategic mistake of running with four candidates in the relatively free 2005 presidential elections and taking votes away from each other. The phenomenon of Ahmadinejad as president never would have happened it the people of Tehran hadn't boycotted the 2003 local elections. Only 12 percent of eligible voters participated and elected Ahmadinejad as governor, a position he later used as a springboard into the presidential palace.

It was a similar situation in the 2004 parliamentary elections. The Iranians had forgotten that politics is like soccer. You have to stay on the field at least until overtime or the penalty shootout.

The starting position has changed drastically since 2004 and even more since 2005 [with Ahmadinejad's election as president]. One has to look at what kind of political institutions both camps have available to them. The major reform parties aren't even allowed to have an official publication. The conservatives have control of both the legislative and executive branches of government.

Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, a moderate spiritual leader, is at the head of the judiciary, but the conservative Tehran judge Saeed Mortazavi effectively has the power. Shahroudi's instructions are sometimes ignored by the provincial judges. The conservatives have the Islamic Revolution Guardians Army on their side.

Kicking a soccer ball

Politics is like soccer, said Khosrozadeh

I have to say that new developments and trends can be observed among the population as pressure on the opposition increases. Successive cases of repression will ultimately confront the Islamic Republic with existential challenges.

Ali Akbar Musavi Khomeini, former chairmen of the alumni branch of the only legal oppositional student group, which is also the country's largest student organization, put it like this in 2003 when he was a parliamentarian in the sixth parliament: "Our country's main problem is that there are institutions that are outside of state control. They act under the protection and supervision of one person and this person doesn't allow any changes or reforms and is above the law."

That authority is the religious leader and the system of absolute power for jurists. Criticism of this authority is getting louder and louder.

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