Claude Salhani, United Press International:
President Bush's denouncing of Iran's electoral system a day before the Islamic Republic went to the polls to choose a new president was seen by Iranian opposition groups as a sign of encouragement and support. READ MORE
Vowing that "America would support those seeking freedom," Bush called the Islamic Republic's electoral system "undemocratic."
"Today, Iran is ruled by men who suppress liberty at home and spread terror across the world," he said in a statement released by the White House. "Power is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy."
"The June 17th presidential elections are sadly consistent with this oppressive record," added Bush.
Opponents of the regime in Tehran welcomed the president's comments.
"This is a rare recognition by any Western country that Iran's election process is neither free nor fair," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian activist living in Washington who is president of Strategic Policy Consulting. "Rather it is designed to keep the ruthless clerics in power."
Jafarzadeh sees Bush's statement as having the following ramifications:
1. It offers the Iranian people a view that the United States is serious in recognizing their right to determine their own future.
2. Opposition groups in Iran will view Bush's statement as a signal to step up their efforts to unseat the regime of the clerics.
3. The American president's statement will be viewed by countries of the European Union as a warning that the United States is serious on Iran and is tightening its political screws on the regime of the mullahs.
4. It sends a signal to "rogue states" and "Tehran-sponsored terrorist groups" that the world is increasingly intolerant of their activities.
Jafarzadeh said this message is "particularly timely, because there were reports Thursday that Iran had lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its production of plutonium," a fissile material that can be used to build nuclear bombs.
As for the actual results of the presidential race, Jafarzadeh, and Iran's opposition, claim "it would make no difference who would actually win the presidential election in Iran," given that the country will remain under the rule of the mullahs.
In the running are seven candidates:
Seventy-year old Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the front-runner who claims he can "solve the country's problems." He is a Shiite Muslim cleric who served two previous presidential terms. Formerly known as a hard-liner, Rafsanjani now casts himself as a reformer. His hope is to mend relations with the West and even with the United States.
Other candidates are Ali Larijani, who was the head of Iranian State TV and Radio from 1994 to 2004. Before that, Larijani served as the minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance under Rafsanjani, taking up the post from current President Mohammad Khatami.
Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf is one of five candidates who previously held top Revolutionary Guards posts. Qalibaf, a former commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Air Force, stepped down as the chief of the paramilitary police force, the State Security Forces, to run in the upcoming elections.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was until recently the mayor of Tehran. He is seen to be an ultra-conservative, having also been a top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime's ideological army. Following the 1979 Islamic revolution, he became a member of the Office for Strengthening Unity. He belonged to the ultra-conservative faction of the OSU. According to other OSU officials, when the idea of storming the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was raised in the OSU central committee by Mahmoud Mirdamadi and Abbas Abdi, who later became leading figures in Khatami's faction, Ahmadinejad suggested storming the Soviet embassy at the same time.
Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karroubi, a mid-ranking cleric, member of the State Expediency Council and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Karroubi was Majlis (parliament) Speaker from 1989 to 1992. He took up the same post again from 2000 to 2004, replacing a leading conservative, Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri, who was appointed an adviser to Khamenei.
Mohsen Mehralizade, perhaps the most obscure candidate in the race, is a vice president in the present administration and serves as the head of the National Sports Organization.
And Mostafa Moin, who served as chancellor of Shiraz University from 1981 to 1982 and has been a member of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council since 1983. Moin was a deputy in the Majlis from 1982 to 1984, and again from 1988 to 1989. He served as the Culture and Higher Education minister from 1989 to 1993 and served as Higher Education minister from 1997 to 2003. Students and professors in Shiraz University in the early 1980s have signed a petition against Moin, saying that as chancellor, he actively purged dissidents and all those who did not conform to the dominant Islamic fundamentalist ideology. His candidacy is supported by the Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Bush lamented the fact that more than 1,000 presidential candidates were not allowed to run and criticized the regime for shutting down "independent newspapers and Web sites."
"Across the Middle East, hopeful change is taking place," said Bush. "People are claiming their liberty. And as a tide of freedom sweeps this region, it will also come eventually to Iran."
Bush accused Tehran's regime of jailing "those who dare to challenge the corrupt system."
"America believes in the independence and territorial integrity of Iran," Bush said. "America believes in the right of the Iranian people to make their own decisions and determine their own future. America believes that freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul. And to the Iranian people, I say: As you stand for your own liberty, the people of America stand with you."
About 47 million of Iran's 68 million people -- all Iranians over the age of 15 -- are eligible to vote. Turnout in the 2001 presidential election was close to 67 percent.
"The outcome of Iran's presidential race will undoubtedly be important for the legitimacy of the country's current clerical regime, now embroiled in a thorny diplomatic dispute with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program," writes Ilan Berman in the June 16 issue of Foreign Policy Alert, in an article titled "Reading Iran's Elections Right."
"Yet, for all of its fanfare, the Iranian presidential election is just a sideshow," says Berman. "No matter their political affiliation, all of the approved candidates have passed muster with the regime's vetting authority for political appointments, known as the Guardian Council."
This, explains Berman, "means that irrespective of who wins the Iranian presidency, the Islamic Republic will not roll back its efforts to acquire a nuclear capability. Nor will it change any of the other troubling policies (such as sponsorship of terrorism and opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process) that characterize its core ideology. In the end, if there is a change in Iranian policies, it will be one of style, not substance."
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)