Friday, June 12, 2009

Elections in Iran: Implications and Outcomes

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

After a campaign marked by spirited supporters, dirty tactics, and international attention, Election Day in Iran was marked by massive voter turnout as the hawkish and anti-Western President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against his several opponents. This election comes as a culmination of a youth movement which has been growing ever since the Islamic Revolution first took place in 1979, and presents what many believe to be the possibility of real reform in Iran. Nevertheless, it is still uncertain as to what a successful progressive candidate could accomplish, or whether or not fair standards will be used in the processing of votes.

The main challenger to Ahmadinejad is Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who served as Prime Minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s. A figurehead for the reform movement in Iran, Mousavi has campaigned for better human rights (including equal rights for women) as well as improved relations with Washington. Accompanying him on the campaign trail is his wife Zahra Rahnavard, who often addresses crowds on her own and is already being labeled “the Iranian Michelle Obama”.

Both President Ahmadinejad and Mr. Mousavi have spent most of their campaigns bashing each other, going so far as make accusations of Nazi-like propaganda tactics. Iran’s deep political rift is demonstrated in their speeches as well as in the equally-intense rallies held by their respective supporters. As of right now the two candidates are almost even in the polls, with different news organizations predicting different outcomes. However, is this election really the catalyst that it has been hyped up to be?

The fact of the matter is that whatever the outcome, all final decisions in Iran are still made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. This means that even if human rights reform began to take place, there is no doubt that conservative Islamic Law will continue to be the norm. It is also unlikely that any sort of halt to the nuclear program will occur, meaning that this election will do little to stem Israeli rhetoric against Iran. The final candidates were, after all, subject to approval by the Supreme Leader (out of hundreds that applied, only four were chosen). Even if the reformist candidate did obtain the simple majority of votes needed to win, the results could be shot down by the Supreme Leader on the unquestionable accusation of “fraud”.

Therefore, what are the implications of this contest? Of the two possible outcomes, it is obvious that Mousavi’s victory would mean infinitely better chances of normalizing U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic and to some extent advancing peace in the region. However, even if Ahmadinejad does emerge victorious, the seeds of reform have already been planted. For the first time Iranians have shown that they are not afraid to voice their opinions, regardless of where they fall in line with the rhetoric of the ruling clerics. Because of this fact, there is no doubt that diplomatic relations will improve regardless of the victor.