In Part One of this series, I covered some important historical background to Iranian politics in general, and the upcoming June 14th presidential elections in particular.
Today, I will consider specific candidates and issues.
The two main political groupings in Iranian politics are the principlists and reformists. The former stress adhering to the principles of the Islamic revolution, and generally favor principle over expediency; while the latter are more willing to bend or compromise principles as they search for pragmatic solutions.
The currently favored presidential candidate is Supreme National Security Council President Saeed Jalili, a leading principlist. Saeed Jalili has been the top Iranian representative in nuclear negotiations. He is committed to a principled position: Iran has the right to an independent nuclear energy program, including uranium enrichment – but it will not build nuclear weapons. Saeed Jalili argues that Iran is complying with its international obligations under the NPT, so the Israeli-led terrorism and sanctions against Iran are criminal acts of aggression. (Israel is itself a nuclear outlaw; it has refused to sign the NPT, and has built and deployed an estimated 400 nuclear weapons, which hang like swords of Damocles over the heads of its neighbors.)
Additionally, Jalili and many other Iranians argue that the West, especially the US, has also been violating the spirit if not the letter of the NPT by failing to live up to NPT provisions demanding that the nuclear nations make a good faith effort to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely from their arsenals. Why should Iran, which is complying with the NPT to the letter, be penalized – while Israel shreds the NPT as a rogue outlaw state, and the US refuses to comply with the NPT provision mandating progress toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons?
The leading reformist candidate, Hassan Rohani – who negotiated with the West during the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997 to 2005) – has criticized Saeed Jalili’s efficacy as a nuclear negotiator: “All of our problems stem from this – that we didn’t make an utmost effort to prevent the (nuclear) dossier from going to the (UN) Security Council,” he said in a recent debate.
But Jalili responded: “At a time when some friends were saying… we should avoid unnecessary confrontations with them (Western powers), what were the results?…During the term of Mr Khatami and after all the cooperation on Afghanistan (then), the (United States) called us ‘the axis of evil’. This method is wrong. If we want to pursue this method, we will see those results.”
Most Iranians seem to accept Saeed Jalili’s point: From 1997 to 2005 under the reformist president Khatami, Iran bent over backward to cooperate with the West. But the West, led in its Mideast policies by Zionist extremists, viewed the reformist President’s willingness to compromise as weakness, and pursued an intransigently aggressive policy toward Iran. Even after Iran more or less cooperated with the illegal US invasion of Afghanistan, Bush’s ultra-Zionist speechwriter David Frum labeled Iran part of the “axis of evil,” and the PNAC-dominated Bush-Cheney regime rebuffed all Iranian attempts at compromise and cooperation – including a very generous “grand bargain” that would have ended the post-1979 US-Iranian estrangement.
Saeed Jalili, like Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, believes that Iran will have a better chance of working out its differences with the West, especially in the long term, if it adheres to a consistent and principled policy. Partly for this reason – and also because Iranians have figured out that the so-called “green revolution” unrest of 2009 was an anti-Iran covert op led by Soros-funded NGOs and Western intelligence agencies – most observers do not think Rohani and the reformists are likely to win this year.
The other leading candidate, alongside Saeed Jalili, is Tehran mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, also a principlist. But unlike Saeed Jalili, whose first area of expertise is foreign policy, Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf is a domestic policy expert whose first priority is to fix Iran’s economy. Qalibaf’s concern with the economy, which has been struggling due in part to Western sanctions, appears to be a good political strategy; recent polls have suggested that he is now tied for first place with Saeed Jalili, with each candidate drawing roughly 30% of the prospective vote.
One sign of the reformists’ weakness, and the principlists’ strength, is that reformist candidate Mohammed Reza Aref felt obliged to withdraw from the race a few days ago, acting on advice from former reformist president Khatami. Aref’s motivation, according to Press TV, was to give the reformists a better chance in the elections. Following Aref’s withdrawal, principlist candidate Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel also withdrew, presumably to level the playing field by eliminating any reformist advantage gained by Aref’s withdrawal.
There are divergent views in Iran about how badly the economy is being hurt by Western sanctions. The reformists, who are backed by a comprador class that profits from trading imports for Iranian crude, view the sanctions in purely negative terms. Many principlists disagree, pointing out that the “resistance economy” of self-sufficiency through increased manufacturing and turning oil and gas into value-added products may actually benefit Iran in the long run. By forcing Iran to invest its money in making its own goods, rather than squandering the money on imports, the sanctions may be helping Iran build the Middle East’s most powerful manufacturing sector. In this sense, the sanctions are the equivalent of a protectionist trade policy, which sacrifices short-term access to foreign goods in favor of long term industrial and technological growth. (Asking people to sacrifice short term well-being for long-term goals, of course, is not always an easy political sell.)
The two-year devaluation of the Iranian rial to less than one third of its value against the dollar – a devaluation driven by the sanctions – has hurt those Iranians who need foreign currency. When I traveled to Iran last February, I met a student who was studying in Europe but thinking of permanently returning to Iran, since his family could no longer afford the foreign currency needed to pay his tuition. Those who import foreign goods to sell in Iran have also been devastated by the devaluation. Though cutting luxury imports may be a good thing, many Iranians have suffered and even died from lack of availability of imported medicines.
But as all economists know, devaluation has a positive side: It encourages manufacturing and exports by making your goods cheaper compared to foreign ones. That is why countries interested in building a strong “real economy” through manufacturing always try to keep their currency as low as possible. (It has worked for China!) Iran’s exports of value-added products have been booming during the “crisis” of the past two years, suggesting that the sanctions may, ironically, be helping Iran become even stronger vis-a-vis its Middle Eastern neighbors than it was before – the exact opposite of their intended effect.
Despite the positive side of the sanctions, both reformists and principlists would ultimately like them to end. For some, the real question is whether there is anything Iran can do to hasten the process. The principlists point out that thus far, the US has been unwilling to take yes for an answer: when Iran recently agreed to Obama’s proposed solution to the nuclear issue, as delivered by the President of Brazil and the Prime Minister of Turkey, Obama reneged on his own plan. Iranians wondered whether the US has a secret Supreme Leader somewhere who vetoed Obama’s proposal. (Some suggest that the hard-line Zionist faction in the US is playing the role of Supreme Leader in this respect.)
Beyond the question of the sanctions, some candidates argue that they could manage the economy more skillfully than the current administration. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has criticized President Ahmadinejad’s economic management, and claimed that he could do better, based on his record as the mayor overseeing ambitious urban renewal policies in Tehran that most observers consider successful. (Personally, I think Tehran needs to vastly reduce automobile use in favor of mass transit and bicycles, but I doubt I would get many votes if I ran for office in Iran on that platform.)
Whatever the results of Iran’s elections, they will undoubtedly disappoint the Zionists and imperialists who dominate the West’s mainstream media and academia. The Zionist-forged Western official discourse is uniformly hostile to Iran’s Islamic revolution, especially to the revolution’s pan-Islamic ideals and support for the Palestinian cause. (The Zionists are currently making an all-out effort to neutralize Iran’s soft-power strength deriving from revolutionary pan-Islamism and anti-Zionism, by spreading sectarian chaos and anti-Shi’a hysteria through their Gulf proxies.)
Whoever the next president of Iran turns out to be, he will be a supporter of the Islamic Revolution and its basic principles and ideals. That is good news for anyone who cares about justice in the world – and bad news for those addicted to injustice.