Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's No Democracy

Scripps Howard News Service, Opinion:
While blasting President Bush for questioning the honesty of last Friday's elections, Iran's ruling clerics were busily trying to fix the outcome of this Friday's runoff. READ MORE

On the eve of last Friday's ballot, Bush issued a statement saying, accurately, that power in Iran "is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy."

Before the election, the ruling self-appointed Council of Guardians had barred 1,000 would-be candidates for failing to measure up to the regime's standards of loyalty and compliance. Seven candidates were deemed acceptable and even then supreme ruler Ali Khamenei had to intervene to add a moderate to the ballot for appearance sake.

After the election, Iran's intelligence minister Ali Yunesi sarcastically thanked Bush for his criticism, saying it had fired up the Iranians to a 62.7 percent turnout. It tells you something about the regime that it trotted out its chief spy to comment on the election, and it tells you something else that the turnout was exactly what the regime had predicted in advance.

The candidate who finished third, former parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karroubi -- these guys are hardly radicals -- complained in a letter to Khamenei about regime thugs intimidating voters and rigging results in the provinces. Two reformist newspapers that planned to print the letter were closed before they could do so.

The runoff this Friday is between a regime retread, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the president from 1989 to 1997, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran and former regime enforcer.

The backers of the two candidates will battle hard to win Friday because of the patronage and perks at stake. But the ruling inner circle has already fixed the election so the outcome doesn't matter. The voters only have a choice between hard-line and harder-line. Either way is OK with the Guardians.