OpinionIran in the World PressCharade at the polls

Charade at the polls

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Boston Globe – GLOBE EDITORIAL: The presidential election staged yesterday in Iran embodies a paradox. Because the candidates were selected by an unelected Guardians Council of a dozen theocrats beholden to the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — after the council had eliminated more than a thousand other would-be candidates — the election is devoid of genuine democratic content. Boston Globe

GLOBE EDITORIAL

The presidential election staged yesterday in Iran embodies a paradox. Because the candidates were selected by an unelected Guardians Council of a dozen theocrats beholden to the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — after the council had eliminated more than a thousand other would-be candidates — the election is devoid of genuine democratic content.

Yet the act of holding elections under a system of clerical dictatorship shows the Iranian leadership’s wish to lay claim to the prestige inherent in real democracies.

Their fixation on turnout illustrates the paradox of theocrats yearning to be considered incarnations of the popular will. Khamenei himself made it clear why turnout matters to the clerical oligarchs when he declared after voting yesterday at the Imam Khomeini Mosque in Tehran: ”When we come to the polling stations to cast our votes according to the constitution, it means we are voting for the Islamic system.”

Knowing all too well that this is the logic of their abhorred masters, Iranians who long for genuine representative government have been debating whether to boycott the election or vote for a candidate who might represent a lesser evil. The reality, of course, is that all seven candidates allowed to campaign by the Guardians Council have proven their fidelity to the system of the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader. All are complicit, to a greater or lesser degree, in the regime’s crimes and its corruption — none more so than Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served two terms as Iran’s president in the turbulent years from 1989 to 1997.

Rafsanjani has been repackaging himself as a pragmatic conservative attuned to the problems of Iran’s young population and as the establishment figure most capable of striking a grand bargain with the United States. But true reformers such as Akbar Ganji, a journalist who was jailed for six years in 2001 for articles linking Rafsanjani and other high officials to the murders of several intellectuals and dissidents, lend no credence to the notion of a reformed, benign Rafsanjani. They know that he and his family used their power to acquire enormous wealth and that Rafsanjani approved assassinations and terrorism abroad while he was president.

Whether Rafsanjani or another of the anointed candidates becomes the next president of Iran, US policy makers would be wise to follow a two-track Iran policy, dealing pragmatically with the regime as Washington once dealt with Mao Zedong or Leonid Brezhnev while at the same time talking directly to the Iranian populace, disproportionately young, that yearns for civil rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and pluralism — not the theocratic travesty of democracy but the real thing.

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