The make up of Iran’s new parliament following the March 14 elections, though still a work in progress, has already solidified the rule of the most belligerent, suppressive faction. The new Majlis can best be described as a den of henchmen and torturers.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i described the new parliament as "committed, opposed to Western arrogance, and powerful.” A day later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the vote as "safeguarding the right to acquire nuclear energy with exemplary prowess."
Khamene'i asked for, and got, an anti-Western parliament, purged of internal opponents, which would endorse Tehran's nuclear agenda.
In Tehran, which had 30 seats up for grabs, 18 of the 19 candidates who made it through the first round belonged to the Ahmadinejad faction. The nineteenth, an occasional critic of Ahmadinejad, is nevertheless a staunch supporter of Khamene'i.
One of the newly elected deputies, Ruhollah Hosseinian, lauded the former deputy Intelligence Minister, implicated in the murder of dozens of intellectuals in the 1990s, as a "great martyr." Another, a female deputy named Fatima Alia, has been identified by eyewitnesses as collaborating in the torture of many women political prisoners affiliated with the main Iranian opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Morteza Agha Tehrani, a cleric, is a ringleader of the plain-clothes agents responsible for the beating and arrest of many students. He is also known as a mentor to the henchmen in Ahmadinejad's cabinet.
The vast majority of the Iranian people steered clear of the ballot boxes. The Interior Ministry’s claim of a 60 percent voter turnout more reflected its reaction to the widespread boycott than the actual vote. According to the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent, polling stations across the capital were “quiet, orderly and only sparsely attended,” as millions of Iranians chose to ignore the plea by Khamene'i that voting was a "national and religious duty."
The situation was even worse elsewhere. In Iran's second most populated city, Mashhad, the leading candidate Mohammad Reza Faker won a seat with 211,624 votes, out of the 1.8 million eligible voters; that is only 12 percent. In the northwestern city of Tabriz, Massoud Pezeshkzad got 105,000 votes, less than nine percent of eligible voters in that city, according to the state-run media.
Ridiculing the government’s 60 percent figure, the BBC reported that “There was certainly no evidence of such a high turn-out in Tehran where polling stations were not busy and many people said they felt there was nothing, or no one, to vote for.” Even the official figure for turnout in Tehran — nearly two million out of seven million eligible voters — shows only 28 percent participation.
Abolhassan Nouri, the Friday prayer leader in the southwestern port city of Khorramshahr, described the elections as "fraudulent." Voters were enticed and intimidated, and votes were traded, reported a Persian language website close to former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Rezai.
Many Iranians used the opportunity to criticize the regime, noting that the elections were largely a sham. One told the UK paper The Guardian: "The people you see voting here are people employed by the government, and who depend on the government. Ordinary people do not have a good life and they don't vote. Of my family and friends, not one percent are going to vote. All the people on the list are the same. It's all the same regime.”
Prior to the election, the Guardian Council, the powerful clerical vetting body, had disqualified nearly 3,000 candidates. Most were cohorts of former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, now rivals to the Khamene’i/Ahmadinejad gang. Most major figures and even many incumbents were never even allowed to run.
But make no mistake: the objective was not a complete purge. The ruling faction sought to keep enough of them on the ballot to give the election a veneer of inclusiveness, while ruling out the possibility of a strong rival block emerging. The scheme, known as “electoral engineering” within the inner ranks of the regime, also sought to discredit rivals by letting them in and then dealing them a severe electoral blow. The so called “reformist” faction took the bait.
Far from providing a mandate, the elections demonstrated the clerical regime’s determination to silence even the nominal dissent coming from the hapless “reformist” camp. The vote was viewed as nothing more than an opportunity for Khamene'i and his allies in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to consolidate the politico-military faction represented by the IRGC’s top brass and veteran commanders turned politicians, like Ahmadinejad. In recent years, Khamene'i has thrown his lot and that of his regime behind the IRGC, at the expense of his traditional ideological and political base.
The parliamentary elections also exposed the reality that just beneath the veneer of Tehran’s claims of popular support for its rogue regional and nuclear ambitions lays a regime despised by its people, who desperately seek real democratic change. This reality reveals the IRGC-centric regime of the ayatollahs as vulnerable, and leaves it little room to maneuver.
The path of confrontation was chosen long ago, and Khamene'i must stay the course in the interest of self-preservation. Tehran will continue secretly developing a nuclear bomb (while obfuscating the nuclear issue), will keep training and arming Iraqi militants (while declaring it wants peace in Iraq), and will not relent on the domestic repression (while claiming a popular mandate). The sooner the West recognizes that Tehran has exhausted its capacity to change its rogue behavior, the better it will be able to fix its broken policy and take concrete steps to implement a new approach.
The right policy would maintain international pressure and sanctions on the Iranian regime, while recognizing that there is deep, widespread popular hostility to the ayatollahs. The Iranian people and their opposition are the best allies for a peaceful and democratic Iran. They are the ones the West should enthusiastically and urgently engage, not the terrorist tyrants who rule over them. Europe and the United States should stop wringing their hands and wasting time.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.