Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
Iranian Political Scientist and Author
Iran’s Guardian Council has been granted a five day extension before it announces the results of its investigation into allegations of fraud and irregularities in the presidential election. The council had agreed to a partial, random recount of 10 percent of the votes.
Because the Council spokesperson dismissed most complaints of pre-election irregularities, it is highly likely that the outcome will be a seal of approval favoring the incumbent, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Therefore, despite the internal turmoil and continuing resistance by the reformists against what they consider ‘rigged’ elections, the outside world must reckon with the inevitability of a second term for the firebrand president who has the confidence of Iran 's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
The tremendous fissures of this race will reverberate throughout the Iranian political system, but the government's first priority should be internal peace. The question is whether or not it will achieve this, short of relying on brute force or a combination of force with soft power maneuvers aimed at neutralizing the simmering discontent witnessed in the streets of Tehran recently.
Ali Larijani, the powerful speaker of Parliament (Majlis), has already emerged as a voice of moderation, as well as mediation, by urging the government to pay attention to the needs of the "massive number of people protesting." Consequently, he may be able to play a catalytic role in reaching out to the disgruntled reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and his sizable supporters, whereby they can feel somewhat vindicated in a non zero-sum polity.
Mousavi is now at a critical crossroads: he can either consent to the finality of Ahmadinejad's victory directly or indirectly, or risk being politically isolated. Worse, he could be arrested and put on trial for his alleged involvement in the recent street riots that have wreaked havoc by causing serious disruptions as well as physical destruction. He may defy all odds and heroically summon his supporters to the street for yet another show of defiance, which is sure to be ruthlessly crushed by the authorities. His best bet is to channel his political assets into building a viable political organization and trying to influence governmental policies both from within and from the outside.
Already, Mousavi's institutional backing is wearing thin, as some of his clerical and non-clerical supporters, including some noted celebrities, have begun to distance themselves from him and come to terms with Ahmadinejad's irreversible electoral victory.
This is partly due to the government's release of detailed information about the election results, as well as Mousavi's own weak complaint about elections fraud, citing many unrelated irregularities that have undercut his effort to establish the case for a "stolen elections."
The sum of evidence presented by Mousavi and the other candidates simply does not bolster the claim of systematic and widespread fraud, despite the announcement by the Guardian Council of voting discrepancies in some 50 towns.
The Council’s spokesperson has clarified the following: (a) that the total population of those towns is around 3 million people; this means that even in the unlikely possibility of all those votes cast in favor of Mousavi, in light of the 11 million voting gap separating him from Ahmadinejad, he would still fall short of the minimum necessary to call for a run-off; (b) the majority of those towns are in resort areas, such as Caspian province of Mazandaran, and the excess vote is largely attributable to heavy internal tourism, and (c) that due to a problem with the census bureau, some northern Tehran districts, where Mousavi actually won, may have been undercounted.
Meanwhile, Tehran is on the verge of revising its ties with London, which froze Iran ’s bank assets last week. Iran has alleged that the British were complicit in training and arming some foreign terrorists who were recently apprehended in the northwest region of the country. Iran has also accused the BBC of biased coverage of the protests and a similar charge has been leveled against CNN for going overboard in ‘sensational’ and ‘biased’ coverage of the street turmoil. Some officials have accused CNN of acting as a "soft power" arm of the U.S., aiming to destabilize Iran .
If this storm passes and the government succeeds in stabilizing the situation with a combination of carrots and sticks, then we are likely to see a more moderate Ahmadinejad gearing up for dialogue with the West. This, in turn, depends on president Obama's ability to resist the pressures to take side in the present crisis in Iran. For sure, Obama cannot ignore the dark side of street protests that have caused substantial physical damage to public properties. Nor should he discount the possibility that some anti-regime groups are active in Iran to foment disorder. If president Obama is not careful, he will jeopardize his self-initiated policy of engagement with Iran.
Editor’s Note: Kaveh L. Afrasiabi has a Ph.D. in political science and specializes in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs. Afrasiabi has taught at Tehran University and Boston University, and has done research at Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, and the Center For Strategic Research, a think tank in Tehran. Afrasiabi has been a consultant to the United Nations’ Program on Dialogue Among Civilizations.