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Iranian Politics

2005-: Ahmadinejad and "Neoconservative" Iran

In June 2005 the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami came to an end with the landslide election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, formerly the mayor of Tehran, and described in the international press as an "ultraconservative." Ahmadinejad officially won the election with almost 62 percent of the national vote, beating out Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who came in second with less than 40 percent of the vote. Rafsanjani, a former President and revolutionary figure with connections to the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor Ayatollah Khamenei, alleged that Ahmadinejad had used a campaign of defamation and outright electoral fraud in his win.

The election had already stirred up political tensions with the reformists who had previously held office, when the Guardians Council prohibited its two candidates from standing in the election. A threat of boycott by reformists and their supporters, which could have potentially led to a poor voter turnout and a debate about the legitimacy of the race led Ayatollah Khamenei to personally intervene, allowing the candidates to stand in the election.

Rafsanjani, who had attempted to campaign as a compromise candidate between conservatives and reformists, was challanged as insincere by reformists. Average Iranians also saw him as historically corrupt, in addition to running what was said to have been the worst campaign of any of the candidates, with campaign literature answering irrelevant questions such as his shoe size rather than dealing with the issues.

Ahmadinejad's campaign on the other hand was outwardly populist, appealing to average Iranians with talk about improving the economy and playing on national pride. This was in stark contrast to the candidacy of reformist candidates, including previous president Mohammad Khatami, who ran on a campaign of high ideals of an increasingly open society and greater political and press freedoms.

The win by Ahmadinejad was a dramatic shift in Iranian politics, but showed that the country in general was extremely divided, with numerous factions and idealogoies. Not until November 2005 did Ahmadinejad finally secure approval from the Madjlis for the bulk of his cabinet ministers, and was forced to conceed his first choice for Minister of Oil. Ahmadinejad, however, did much to ensure the survival of the status quo in Iran, which had been challanged both by reformists under the presidency of Khatami and also by candidates including Rafsanjani during the 2005 election. Rafsanjani had been among only two politicians who suggest measures to curtail the Supreme Jurisconsult. Ahmadinejad immediately set about buttressing that institution and otherwise dismantling reforms enacted under Khatami. These included, suspension of the constitutional supervisory board set up by former President Khatami, calling for the prosecution of perpetrators of "economic crimes," a thinly veiled reference to Rafsanjani and allegations of corruption, and preventing former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karrubi from setting up a satellite TV network. Ahmadinejad's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Hoseyn Saffar-Harandi, was also busy suppressing freedoms of press and assembly for prominent reformist and dissedent groups and publications.

An inability of Ahmadinejad to follow through on his promises of economic progress, challanges by an alliance between moderates and reformists, and behind the scenes disagreements between Supreme Leader Khamenei and the President were all cited as factors in the 2006 municipal elections, held in December of that year. The elections themselves had been pushed back many times, with many suggesting that the executive branch had made serious attempts to influence the outcome through the vetting process and other measures. The results ultimately stood as a defeat for Ahmadinejad, and were seen as a possible rejection of his ultra-nationalist and ultra-hard-line stances, along with inflamatory rhetoric. Denial or challanging of the extent of the Holocaust had generally not been a hallmark of revolutionary Iranian rhetoric concerning Israel, it having seemed unnecessary in the minds of the Iranian establishment who saw the Jewish state as legally illegitimate and oppressive. Ahmadinejad's rhetoric began openly challenged the nature of the Holocaust and his administration openly supported pseudo-academic conferences and events to discuss it.

Ahmadinejad's rhetoric concerning the country's nuclear program was also seen as inflammatory, and had in many subtle ways been contradicted by higher members of the Iranian political establishment. Numerous designated negotiators have resigned. Publically there has been no admission of these shifts being the result of differences of opinion with the President. Khamenei himself took a firm, more moderate stance on the nuclear issue, issuing a Fatwa that nuclear weapons were "un-islamic," a moral reasoning that is in line with other religious authorities around the world.

After the 2006 elections, and the political fallout, Ahmadinejad's presidency became more and more centered around the nuclear issue. Repeated failures to improve the economy meant that in order to maintain political standing Ahmadinejad would have to stick to political issues of broad appeal, such as those playing on Iranian nationalism. However, his attitudes on the nuclear program suggested that he was feeling internal pressure to be more conciliatory to international opponents. Such ovatures have been tied up in his continually inflamatory rhetoric about Israel and the need to respond to assurances by both the United States and Israel that military strikes to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons program were not out of the realm of possibility.




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