June 28, 2005 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 229

Iran's ‘Second Islamic Revolution’: Fulfilled by Election of Conservative President

June 28, 2005 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 229

The victory of conservative president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad over rival candidate and past president 'Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the second round of voting in Iran 's presidential election took Iran, and the rest of the world, by surprise. With approximately 17 million votes, Ahmadi-Nejad garnered about 62% of the runoff vote, while Rafsanjani, with 10 million votes, took about 33%. In all, 27.5 million voters, or 60%, turned out for the election. [1]

With the results of this election, the "Second Islamic Revolution" of Iranian Leader 'Ali Khamenei and his conservative followers is complete. Prior to this, the military apparatus, the judicial system, and the religious establishment were already in the hands of the conservative circles. After winning the municipal elections two years ago, 2004 Majlis (parliament) elections earlier this year, the conservatives now have total control of the centers of power at all levels; no reformists remain in any top posts.

The Reformist Election Boycott and the "Second Islamic Revolution"

The "Second Revolution" came about, in part, due to the voting pattern of the supporters of reform over the past two years – that is, boycotting elections to protest against the reform movements' failure to make good on their promises in the sphere of individual and political freedom. Along with reformists' political protests in the form of boycotting elections, it appears that the reform-supporting electorate is disappointed, alienated, and indifferent – particularly in light of the repressive measures employed by the conservatives.

These measures include closing some 100 reformist newspapers over the past four years; imprisoning journalists and bloggers for criticizing the regime; charging reformists who called for renewing relations with the U.S. with treason; and disqualifying reformist candidates – some in office at the time – from running in elections. As a result, the various students' organizations and intellectuals' organizations announced that they would boycott the presidential elections. [2]

In the February 2003 municipal authority elections, and in the February 2004 elections for the Seventh Majlis, voter turnout was only about 50%. Reform-minded voters stayed away from the polls because of Iran 's Guardian Council's mass disqualification of reformist candidates, and also following the conservatives' judicial measures against Tehran 's mayors. [3]

The Poor People's Vote and the "Second Islamic Revolution"

A further pattern in electoral protest in the presidential election was seen amongst the poorer classes, who apparently refused to support Rafsanjani despite mass public support for him from the reformist political camp and from the reformist press following the first round of voting. Reformist politicians such as Mehdi Karroubi and Mostafa Mo'in (who dropped out in the first round along with Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf); members of reformist movements such as Iran's Islamic Participation Front, the Islamic Republic Mojahideen Organization, the Association of Combatant Clerics, and the Qom Seminary Teachers; ayatollahs such as Ayatollah Taheri Esfahani; and intellectuals, journalists, and artists all called unanimously to support Rafsanjani against conservative candidate Ahmadi-Nejad. However, the poor voted overwhelmingly for Ahmadi-Nejad.

Rafsanjani, who was an ally of the father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is also a billionaire and a highly influential senior politician, and is apparently identified with the current corrupt regime by the poorer classes in Iran. Despite his campaign promise last week to provide unemployment benefits of $100-$135 a month to every unemployed person in Iran, [4] and despite his commitment to advancing reforms in Iran, he could not persuade the have-nots, the unemployed, and the supporters of reform to vote for him. [5]

In contrast, the conservative Ahmadi-Nejad succeeded in enlisting regime apparatuses – the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij – to assure support for his candidacy, and also used the network of mosques across Iran by having Friday prayer leaders call to vote for him.

Ahmadi-Nejad presented himself to the public as a conservative with clean hands who would fight the corruption that had spread throughout Iran 's government apparatuses. In addition to this was his socio-economic platform, which underlined the values of justice and Islamic morality, social justice, fairness, integrity, and modesty – all in accordance with the principles of the Islamic Revolution. [6]

Another part of Ahmadi-Nejad's election platform was presenting himself as in touch with the people. One example of this was a verbal clash between him and outgoing president Mohammad Khatami, in late April 2005 when Ahmadi-Nejad was mayor of Tehran. Arriving late at the degree awards ceremony at Tehran University, where he was to receive an honorary PhD, President Khatami blamed Tehran traffic jams and told the audience, "T hose in charge of running the city are unable to fulfill their obligation properly… I apologize to you on behalf of those who are incapable of running this city." In response, Ahmadi-Nejad advised Khatami to "take a bus," saying that had Khatami remained in his downtown office instead of moving to a complex in the fashionable and wealthy northern part of the city, he would be more in touch with the people’s everyday problems. He pronounced himself "delighted to see that the president got stuck in Tehran traffic at least once, in order to experience up close what it feels like." [7]

The Changing of the Guard – The Rise of the "Middle Generation" of the Revolution; No Reformists Left in Top Positions.

Ahmadi-Nejad, as well as Majlis Chairman Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, are among the younger members of the "middle" generation of the Islamic Revolution who are faithful to the revolution's values, and who grew up in the establishment apparatuses. Unlike some in the "old guard," they are not clerics. Ahmadi-Nejad is a former Revolutionary Guards commander, and had the support of the conservative bloc in the Majlis and of the prominent conservative party, The Coalition of Iran's Developers (Abadgoran). [8]

The country's executive positions are now also being held by "middle-generation" conservatives. Despite statements by Iranian Leader Khamenei that the regime is based on two "wings," i.e. the reformist and the conservative, all branches of the government are now in the hands of the conservatives. [9] It seems that the conservative regime prefers its own followers – who grew up in the institutions of the regime – over members of the founding generation such as Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karroubi.

If up until now Iranian reformists had some representation – even if only nominal – in the form of figures such as outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, they now have no representation at all.

Was There Electoral Fraud?

Three questions remain regarding whether there was electoral fraud:

1) On the morning of June 18, the day after the first round of voting, the conservative daily Kayhan (which is close to Iranian Leader Khamenei) published the results of the very close race between Ahmadi-Nejad and Karroubi – even though the outcome of the count was not officially released until that evening. How did Kayhan know in advance?

2) Ahmadi-Nejad jumped from 5.7 million votes in the first round to over 17 million in the second round – a jump that seems suspicious.

3) The number of votes cast for Ahmadi-Nejad in the second round (17 million) exceeded (by nearly 6 million) the total number of votes (11.4 million) cast by the entire conservative camp. [10]

A Brief Bio of Ahmadi-Nejad

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, 49, was born in Garmsar, southeast of Tehran, and was the fourth of eight children. His father, a blacksmith, moved the family to Tehran when Ahmadi-Nejad was one year-old.

In 1980, he was active in the revolutionary student gatherings which brought about the Islamic Revolution. At the onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, Ahmadi-Nejad joined the Iranian fighters on the western front.

In 1986 he joined the Revolutionary Guards, playing a role in covert operations in Kirkuk, Iraq. Later, he became chief engineer of the Revolutionary Guards' Sixth Army, and corps staff head of the Revolutionary Guards in the western provinces.

Ahmedi-Nejad received his doctoral degree in traffic and transportation engineering and planning from the University of Science and Technology in 1987.

Ahmadi-Nejad served as governor of Maku and Khov, two cities in the province of Western Azerbaijan, for four years in the 1980s, and as advisor to the governor-general of Kurdistan province for two years.

In 1993, while serving as advisor in the Ministry of Culture, he was appointed governor-general of the northwest province of Ardebil. He was chosen "exemplary governor" for three years running.

With the end of his gubernatorial term in 1997, Ahmadi-Nejad joined the scientific board of directors of the Civil Engineering College of the University of Science and Technology. In 2003, he was elected mayor of Tehran. [11]

*Ayelet Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project.

[1] IRNA (Iran), June 25, 2005.

[2] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 226, "The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II)," The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II); June 16, 2005.

[3] In the election for the Seventh Majlis, the Guardian Council disqualified over 2,000 reformist candidates, including some who were in office at the time. Over the course of several years, conservatives obstructed several reformist Tehran mayors and accused them of financial corruption, ultimately forcing them to resign. These measures led to a 15% voter turnout in the 2003 municipal elections, and Ahmadi-Nejad was elected mayor.

[4] Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), June 22, 2005.

[5] Iran(Iran), June 22, 2005.

[6] Sharq (Iran), June 20, 2005; Aftab-e Yazd(Iran), June 21, 2005.

[7] Iran Daily (Iran), May 1, 2005.

[8] Sharq (Iran), June 21, 2005.

[9] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 226, "The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II)," The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II); June 16, 2005.

[10] The votes of the conservative camp in the first round of voting: Ahmadi-Nejad, 5.7 million; Qalibaf, 4 million; Larijani, 1.7 million; the total was 11.4 million votes cast. In the first round, Rafsanjani garnered about 6 million votes; Karroubi, 5 million; Mo'in, 4 million, while Mehralizadeh got 1.2 million; the total votes cast for reformists in the first round numbered 16 million. In contrast, in the second round, Rafsanjani garnered only 10 million votes.

[11] Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), June 26, 2005.

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