Cliffhanger in Iran

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New York Times – Editorial: What a surprise: in the race for the mostly meaningless position of president of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the conservative hard-line mayor of Tehran, came in second place, and will be in a runoff on Friday with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former two-term president. Mehdi Karroubi, the former speaker of Parliament who was the closest thing to a reformist in Iranian politics, accused hard-liners of rigging the election. New York Times

Editorial

What a surprise: in the race for the mostly meaningless position of president of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the conservative hard-line mayor of Tehran, came in second place, and will be in a runoff on Friday with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former two-term president. Mehdi Karroubi, the former speaker of Parliament who was the closest thing to a reformist in Iranian politics, accused hard-liners of rigging the election. This being Iran, those words were barely out of his mouth when two reformist newspapers planning to publish his remarks were shut down, and Mr. Karroubi’s supporters quickly began making nice with the establishment.

There are few who actually believed that the Iranian elections were going to be anything more than a sham to begin with, given that it was a council of unelected clerics deciding who would and who wouldn’t be allowed to run. And this for a presidency, mind you, that has no power to do anything the establishment does not want done.

Still, Saturday’s results are disturbing because they appear to have catapulted to center stage a hard-liner best known for removing the English soccer player David Beckham from Tehran billboards. Apparently Mr. Beckham’s brand of sultry poutiness was too much for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s vision of Iran’s capital.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is an entrenched believer in Iran’s right to make its own nuclear fuel. That issue is particularly critical in light of the latest disclosure that Tehran has been experimenting not just with enriched uranium but also with plutonium.

Mr. Rafsanjani, for his part, is no reformist by any standard. His two previous presidential terms, from 1989 to 1997, were scarred by state-sponsored terrorism at home and abroad. There is little in Mr. Rafsanjani’s record to justify any hope that, if elected, he would reach an acceptable nuclear deal and then sell it to the clerical establishment either.

Whatever the results of Friday’s runoff, hopes for real reform in Iran are bleak.

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