Wednesday, February 25, 2009
And it begins... Khatami vs. Ahmadinejad?
Nobody really has been blogging about this article in the LA Times today, but I thought it was good. The Iranian presidential election, officially in June, has begun to pick up. The candidates are starting to campaign, and the rhetoric is picking up from the "principal-ists" against Khatami, and from Khatami against Ahmadinejad's legacy. Besides the political pop-shots that are typical, several developments have played out quickly over the last few weeks:
1) Ahmadinejad took his campaign to Yazd, the home of Khatami, to give a speech, and show he is willing to take it directly at Khatami, who he sees as his biggest rival at this point.
2) Keyhan, and its editor Shari'atmadari, have not just compared Khatami to Benazir Bhutto, but actually predicted that Khatami will be assassinated like she was as a reformer. Not by the principal-ists of course, but by US decree (like in Pakistan of course).
3) Just today, center-right reformist candidate, and former Majles Speaker, Karoubi hired ex long-term Tehrani mayor Karbaschi (the one who helped Khatami win in 1998) as his campaign manager. Additionally it should be noted they are both closely associated with Rafsanjani, former president, Revolutionary founding father, and current chief of the Expediency Council.
4) The IRGC, the military wing of the hierocracy, put out a bulletin in their media organ Sobhe Sadegh regarding all of, what they claim to be, Khatami's transgressions. This is a rigorous attack from the conservative group, showing how principal-ists play hardball, even so early on. Example: "with the announcement of Khatami’s candidacy to run in the elections for the tenth president of the Islamic republic, his supporters have entered the realm of foreign anti-Iranian media in an effort to create support for him."
5) Basij ("volunteers", a group of officially sanctioned thugs) has been officially tasked by Khamenei, via the IRGC commander Ja'afari, to "stand against those who want to hurt the tight relations between the Leader and [Iranian] nation." This only gives a blank check to basij to rough up any large student demonstrators, for instance, who are pro-reform, and against the status quo.
6) Dark horse candidates wait in the wings. Maybe Ahmadinejad might not actually be the candidate the principal-ists decide to go with, especially if Khamenei decides Khatami's popularity is overtaking Ahmadinejad's chances. Tehran mayor Qalibaf for instance maybe will be better. Or a dark horse unnamed (I have my suspicions already). As far as the reformists go, if former prime minster Mousavi enters (which he still may), along with Karoubi, or maybe Rowhani (former chief nuclear negotiator), this could dilute Khatami's influence. Although it is worthy to note the true popularity Khatami enjoys.
But it's not like a game who's close examination will yield results one could prognosticate from. Even with all these happenings lately, who the hell actually knows what the regime is going to do? The Guardian Council can flag whoever it wants as not "Islamic" enough to compete in the competition, eliminating possibly their biggest threat, like Khatami (although this would be a huge decision that would be extremely unpopular and would destabilize the regime a tiny bit for the moment, also probably bringing boycott to the elections from the liberal-minded). Although I don't predict that will happen yet (I'll be watching the 'official' rhetoric though).
Although a few weeks before Khatami announced his candidacy he did meet with Khamenei, so it appears that he has been sanctioned by the Leader to actually compete. They have a history of family relations that goes way back, and Khatami is a strong supporter of the Revolutionary ideology. He is just much more, um...open and pragmatically international.
Well, we'll see what the next few months have to offer. The election is really 'ON'. It will be important to watch the regime's crackdown on the citizenry, especially reformist media, student protests (already in progress), reform-minded blogsters, and reformist offices. Basij will operate in full force.
In my opinion the elections are actually designed within the Constitution to only reinforce and sustain the status quo. But maybe I'm cynical based on 30 Revolutionary regime years, and 30 elections that have held the hierocracy in place... To be fair, I'll reread the Constitution and reconsider...