Leadership: Ahmadinejad is Judged by the People


December19, 2006: On Friday, December 15th, Iranians went to the polls to elect new local councils and a new Assembly of Experts. The local councils run municipal services. They appoint mayors, and thus indirectly control local government and budgets. This gives them a lot of clout, particularly in larger cities, such as Teheran.

The Assembly is technically the highest constitutional authority in Iran. Its 86-members have the power to select the country's supreme leader, the religious official who is actually above the president and all other branches of government. It was the Assembly that selected Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader, back in 1989.

As it turns out, Khamenei, although a religious conservative, is a lot less conservative that the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and probably a lot saner as well. In office for only 18 months, Ahmadinejad has pushed an ultra-hard line religious agenda, while making wildly belligerent statements, including threats against Israel and the U.S., and has been pouring money into Hezbollah. This has made him wildly popular with many of the poverty-stricken, religiously conservative rural people of Iran. Perhaps too popular for the religious leadership's tastes.

Ahmadinejad's most recent antics include convening a "Holocaust Conference" where anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other racists could parade their hate, and allowing his religious purity to be tainted by watching women dancers during the opening ceremonies of the Asia Games two weeks ago, The "Holocaust Conference" has drawn world-wide scorn on Iran (though generally praise in Moslem circles), while the dancing girls has laid him open to charges of religious impurity.

The current elections for the Assembly of Experts turned out to be a contest between supporters of President Ahmadinejad, led by the fiercely conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who has openly denounced democracy as "un-Islamic," and those of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, although himself a senior cleric, has proven a much more careful and pragmatic politician.

Under Iran's constitution, Ayatollah Khamenei and the senior religious leadership constitute the "Guardian Council," and have the power to vet candidates for all elections. In anticipation of the current round of elections for the Assembly, some 490 people entered their names as candidates. The Guardian Council rejected about 240 of them. Another 110 dropped out for various reasons (e.g., compromises among tribal leaders, health, etc.). That left just 140 candidates vying for 86 seats. Many of the rejected candidates were considered too "liberal." But a number of Mesbah-Yazdi's supporters were also rejected, perhaps suggesting the Guardian Council's displeasure with Ahmadinejad. In addition, Ahmadinejad's supporters were unable to form a coalition with other religious conservatives. Meanwhile, reformist elements and younger people - including university students, some of whom publicly booed Ahmadinejad during a speech recently - turnrf out in large numbers; they generally stayed home during the presidential elections 18 months ago, which was a major reason for Ahmadinejad's election

Election results are still coming in, but early returns indicate that Ahmadinejad's followers got clobbered, meaning that Iranians are indeed fed up with Ahmadinejad's antics.




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