NewsSpecial WireIran’s new President cements ultra-conservative grip on power

Iran’s new President cements ultra-conservative grip on power

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Iran Focus: Tehran, Jun. 25 – A 49-year-old former commander of the Revolutionary Guards became the sixth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in a “landslide” victory over former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, cementing the grip of ultra-conservatives led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on all the levers of power in the theocratic state. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Mayor of Tehran since April 2003, was unknown to most Iranians before the first round of presidential elections on June 17. Iran Focus

Tehran, Jun. 25 – A 49-year-old former commander of the Revolutionary Guards became the sixth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in a “landslide” victory over former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, cementing the grip of ultra-conservatives led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on all the levers of power in the theocratic state.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Mayor of Tehran since April 2003, was unknown to most Iranians before the first round of presidential elections on June 17. Widely expected to be eliminated in the first round, he came second after veteran politician and strongman Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Ahmadinejad’s victory dealt a crushing blow to European governments who had given their backing to Mostafa Moin, an ally of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, in the first round, and pinned their hope on the “pragmatic” Rafsanjani in the second round.

“The hardliners’ domination of politics in Tehran throws the European Union’s policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with the Islamic state into complete confusion”, a European diplomat who was in Tehran until recently said in a telephone interview. “Engaging Iran in the hope of promoting moderates has backfired”.

“He owes his victory as much to the strong organization of the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitary Bassij as to the anti-Rafsanjani vote by millions of impoverished Iranians who hate the former President as a symbol of corruption and nepotism”, Ali Yarandi, a sociologist in Tehran University, said.

“The same machinery that won the last two national elections [municipal elections in 2003 and parliamentary elections in 2004″> steamrolled to victory this time”, journalist Haleh Hayati said. “This is not about democratic elections. It’s about the Revolutionary Guards and Islamic vigilantes stuffing ballot boxes with fake votes and intimidating election workers and voters alike”.

Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith, campaigned as a populist politician opposed to the scions of the Islamic theocracy; men such as Hashemi Rafsanjani whose family runs a large business empire.

In reality, Ahmadinejad is seen as little more than a “puppet” in the hands of the powerful clerics who piggybacked him to victory. One of his principal backers, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, was in buoyant mood yesterday as he delivered Tehran’s Friday prayers sermon.

“Every vote you cast is a bullet in the heart of America”, he told worshippers. “What they (Western countries) have is not democracy, but rule of trickery. It’s parties and capitalists who get the vote of the people in their own favour to fill their pockets”.

Jannati, one of a handful of ultra-conservative clerics who form the “inner cabinet” of Ayatollah Khamenei, has played a key role in engineering the consolidation of power in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and their allies in the past three years.

Active or former generals of the ayatollahs’ ideological army control the military and security apparatus, the Majlis (Parliament), the principal dailies, the state broadcasting corporation which runs all the radio and television stations, the municipal councils, and the Supreme National Security Council.

Ahmadinejad’s victory brings the last outpost of power in the Islamic Republic, the presidency, under ultra-conservative control. With the hard-line judiciary and the Guardian Council already in their hands, the hard-line clerics around Ayatollah Khamenei are now in complete control of the ruling theocracy.

Ahmadinejad is on record as saying that he will implement “the policies of the Supreme Leader to the letter”. He will move the government to a tougher negotiating position in talks with Europe over its nuclear program.

He has criticized Iran’s current negotiators as making too many concessions to Europe. His presidency will mean that Iran’s foreign and security policies, including all the decisions on the nuclear program, will be made solely in the office of the Supreme Leader with minimal input from other parts of government.

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