Iran’s Presidential Election Takes Predictable Turn – by M K Bhadrakumar

Iran’s Presidential Election Takes Predictable Turn

Posts by: M K Bhadrakumar – Indian Punchline

The ‘known unknown’ in the fateful decision handed down on Thursday by Iran’s Guardian Council on the approved list of candidates for the forthcoming presidential election on May 19 was as regards the candidacy of former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. That was for three main reasons. First, he is a colourful personality who occupies a unique spot in Iran’s political spectrum, which qualifies to be called ‘leftist’. Iran’s politics needs such a platform, given the nature of its problems of development.

A contestation between the Conservative Right and the Moderate Right detracts from the authenticity of the electoral arena. The paradox is that while there is a faction known as ‘reformists’ in Iran, it serves the same class interests as the conservative religious establishment.   

The 1978 revolution had leftist moorings, given its genesis as a popular democracy movement, but ended with the establishment of the world’s first Islamic state. And in a bitter struggle within the revolution, progressives got eliminated. It remains a hugely controversial chapter in Iran’s modern history and keeps popping up every now and then, reopening old wounds.

Second, Ahmedinejad was a rare ‘non-cleric’ president. Highly educated, intelligent, articulate and a self-confident intellectual credited with progressive outlook, he showed that a politician can have mass appeal in Iran sans the patronage of the religious establishment. Although deeply religious in his private beliefs and Spartan lifestyle, he lit up a potential path in Iran’s evolution as a practising democracy that lay unexplored. Indeed, Iran’s progress as a modern state stands to gain if the religious establishment also becomes accountable to the people – not only to god.

Did the religious establishment feel challenged by him? It seems so.

Third, in world politics today, we need a Bolivarian leader and therefore if there is no Ahmedinejad, it is a poorer world. Someone should speak up when the mother of all bombs is dropped on a hapless nation which is already at the end of its tether after years of occupation; ransacking and savagery, or when a colour revolution is being insidiously fostered in faraway Venezuela. Multipolarity in world politics cannot be a fig-leaf for a concert of big powers to cover their back side.

Ahmedinejad was genuinely an internationalist who dared to punch above his weight and almost got away with it. The world needs him in the era of Donald Trump. The alternative is to settle for Kim Jong Un, which is of course bizarre.

Instead, in its wisdom, Iran’s Guardian Council has debarred Ahmedinejad from contesting next month’s election. Six candidates have been short-listed, but no official reason has been given. And there is no higher appeal, either.

What explains it? To be sure, there will be myriad conspiracy theories. To my mind, it is a highly political decision that the Guardian Council took. Some time back, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had reportedly asked Ahmadinejad not to put his name forward for this year’s election, so as to avoid “polarising” the country. But the latter displayed strategic defiance. If so, it was a hopeless act.

If an analogy is drawn from Indian politics, it was as if LK Advani had projected himself as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 poll, even after figuring out the RSS’s game plan. Advani showed prudence, while Ahmedinejad needed to be restrained.

But then, that is also what makes Ahmedinejad adorable – to fight and lose rather than to shy away.

Ahmedinejad’s exit improves the chances of re-election for President Hassan Rouhani, whose performance on the economic front has been dismal with high unemployment (12.5%) despite the impressive 6.6% growth rate. Rouhani’s main opponent is likely to be the conservative cleric with a background in the judiciary (and Iran’s alleged extra-judicial killings) who heads the prestigious and powerful (and incredibly wealthy) religious foundation known as Astan Quds Razavi with responsibility for overseeing the country’s holiest Shia shrine in the city of Mashhad — Ebrahim Raisi.

It is an “in-house” affair, with a level playing field available for two conformist figures of the religious establishment – one far-right and the other moderate-reformist – testing their popularity. For neither, of course, this is the end of the road in their career. Ahmedinejad would have given an existential dimension to the election, and elevated it as the occasion for a great battle of ideas and roads taken and not taken. Put differently, Iran’s establishment is opting for cautious policies.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On April 24, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Posts by: M K Bhadrakumar – Indian Punchline

    China Closes USA Exit Door from Iran Nuclear Deal

    The signing of the first commercial contract between China and Iran to redesign Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor is a landmark event in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Cooperative Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015.

    The Arak plant was a major sticking point in the saga of the Iran nuclear issue. Its conversion for purely commercial / civil use is a vital template of the Iran nuclear deal. The USA and Iran agreed that China could be entrusted with the sensitive task of converting Arak plant, and China which played a significant role in the negotiation of the JCOPA agreed to undertake that task.

    It has taken almost two years to flesh out the commercial contract. The contract was signed in Vienna where the IAEA is headquartered. The timing of the contract is extremely interesting – on the eve of a meeting of the commission on April 25 in Vienna, which is expected to review the progress of implementation of the JCPOA.

    Today’s meeting in Vienna, in turn, is invested with high importance as it will be the occasion for the USA to formally present its perspective on the JCPOA before the international audience after Donald Trump became president.

    Does the USA intend to stick to the JCPOA or does it have ulterior designs to undermine it? The answer to this big question will emerge at [24 April 2017] today’s meeting in Vienna.

    In the run-up to today’s meeting, top figures in the Trump administration have spoken about the JCPOA. Most notably, USA Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reported to the US Congress a week ago that Iran is complying with the terms and conditions of the JCPOA. Trump himself may say Iran is violating the “spirit” of the nuclear deal, but, importantly, Defence Secretary James Mattis underscored on Friday that not only is Iran sticking to the JCPOA but also that the 2015 agreement “still stands”.

    Mattis’s remark resonates because he said this while on a visit to Israel and at a joint press conference with Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman. Clearly, despite its virulent opposition to the nuclear deal when it was under negotiation, Israel is now inclined to see the JCPOA as the best guarantee against Iran embarking on a nuclear weapons programme.

    Conceivably, Trump who had threatened during the election campaign last year to tear up the Iran nuclear deal also sees things differently today. One principal reason would be that the USA simply lacks international support to abandon the nuclear deal, which also carries the sanctity of UN approval. The European powers are pleased with Iran’s implementation of JCPOA.

    Russia strongly supports the JCPOA and with the signing of the commercial contract on Arak in Vienna yesterday, Beijing ASSERTED THAT THERE IS NO QUESTION OF GOING BACK ON THE NUCLEAR DEAL.

    However, the clout of the Israeli-Saudi Arabian lobbies in Washington cannot be ignored. These lobbies will do their utmost to cause disruptions in any normalization between USA and Iran. They simply dread the prospect of USA-Iran normalization, which of course could phenomenally reset Middle East’s geopolitics.

    Tehran has NOT gone into panic mode that Trump might tear up the JCPOA. It also understands the motivations driving Trump administration’s allegations of Iran’s support of terrorism. Conceivably, if President Hassan Rouhani emerges victorious in the May 19 election, which seems almost certain, Tehran will use diplomacy and ‘soft power’ as its principal tools in turning the hostile external neighbourhood incrementally to its favour.

    Tehran will count on a SAVVY, STREET-SMART businessman like Trump to begin counting the loss to American interests at some point by continued self-denial of business in the Iranian market, especially when Russia and China are not wasting time dipping their fingers in the honey pot.

    (By the way, at a meeting yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif agreed on stepping up Sino-Iranian ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ within the framework of One Belt One Road.)

    For the present, though, Trump will tap into the Saudi fear of Iran to sell weapons to that country, extract petrodollars as investment in the American economy to create jobs as well as to promote American exports to the Gulf.

    In particular, Trump (and Wall Street) is besotted with the Saudi Aramco’s IPO, which is likely in 2018. The Saudis have an option to list the IPO in New York or London — or, by Jove, in Hong Kong. Trump knows jolly well that the partial privatization could value Aramco at $2 trillion.

    Unsurprisingly, therefore, Tillerson and Mattis made a beeline to Riyadh within the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Don’t be surprised if Trump also packs bags and travels to Riyadh in the coming weeks.

    All in all, USA-Iran normalization lies in the womb of time, but Trump’s advantage in the near term lies in making abrasive noises about Iran, which would play well in the Saudi court (and pacify Israel.) But the JCPOA as such will remain untouched.

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