- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

That Tehran will not pay any heed to the third UN Security Council resolution condemning its drive to acquire nuclear weapons, stems not from the mullahs’ prowess nor the ineffectiveness of the sanctions. Quite simply, the supreme leader Ali Khamenei is hell-bent on getting the bomb.

Any doubt? Take a look at the results of the March 14 Parliamentary (Majlis) elections, which a significant majority of Iranians shunned. The figures announced so far bear out what was expected long before the first ballot was cast: The supreme leader’s men have captured more than two-thirds of the seats.

In what was dubbed as “engineering the elections,” Khamenei and his handpicked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad devised a sophisticated scheme early on to purge key candidates belonging to the factions affiliated with former presidents Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami (the so-called reformers), while allowing those, which have either no chance of winning or little weight even if elected, to remain in the race to prevent a similar boycott as four years ago, when less than 10 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots.

Out of nearly 7,600 prospective candidates, the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council disqualified no less than 2,700 candidates. Four former ministers, 30 deputy ministers, 10 governors and 73 Majlis deputies were among those receiving the ax. One-thousand others withdrew their names, knowing full well that they could get past the watchdog agencies.

As things stand now, even if all of the remaining rival candidates make it to the Majlis, they would end up with no more than 50 seats in the 290-seat Parliament, and will be in no position to challenge the pro-Khamenei faction’s controlling power.

Clearly, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are keen to grab every single lever of power by allowing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to gradually slither into and eventually dominate the regime’s main power centers.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the IRGC commander in chief, speaking at the convention of IRGC’s paramilitary Bassij Force, held in February, clearly stated, “If the Bassij desires a role in the elections — which I believe it does with the blessings of the Supreme Leader — it should safeguard, complete and expand the trend which has already been set in motion.”

Ironically, the regime’s attempts to solidify its own rule are wrought with unprecedented complications. The purge of rival factions in the midst of the Majlis election process is an indication that the regime feels immensely vulnerable and weak, prompting it to close ranks.

Moreover, during the campaign, Khatami and Rafsanjani clearly demonstrated that they have neither the ability nor the will to resist being driven to the margins of power. Despite getting the boot, Khatami pathetically pleaded with his demoralized supporters not to break rank with the rival camp, because, in his words, the adverse consequences would be to the detriments of all factions.

Reacting to the sham vote, the president-elect of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, said, “The next parliament will serve as a conduit for intensifying the regime’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons, to step up its meddling in Iraq and Lebanon and to crack down further at home. This is, of course, only one side of the coin. The flip side is further isolation internally and the shrinking of its power base, which clearly manifest the state of implosion within the regime.”

In strategic terms, the purges as well as the election outcome vote will render the ruling clique as a whole more vulnerable and fragile and further diminish its power base within the regime. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that dramatic rise in crackdown has failed to quell the outburst of popular protests. The more than 5,000 anti-government demonstrations and uprisings across the country last year highlighted the Iranian people’s disdain for the mullahs and their demand for regime change.

Earlier in this month, thousands of students in Shiraz University, in southern Iran, defied the security forces and held five days on protests on campus, chanting antigovernment slogans and vowing to fight to the end. And a week later, students at the school of medical sciences in Shiraz joined them. The protests have steadily gained more political overtones in recent months. Those in Shiraz, for example, were changing, “This is the final warning, student movement ready for uprising.”

Unfortunately, in confronting a more brazen Tehran the West continues to subscribe naively to the idea of internal factions’ non-existent covet or capacity to initiate, let alone sustain, any sort of change. This explains why despite the fact that two courts, one in the United Kingdom, the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC), and another, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities (CFI), ruled in November 2007 and December 2006 respectively that the blacklisting of Iran’s main opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK) was “perverse” and “must be set aside,” the UK, the US and the EU still refuse to lift the unlawful ban which has clearly hampered the effort to unseat the mullahs.

By condemning the election charade and reaching out to the Iranian people and the opposition movement, the West should stand with the Iranian people in their quest for freedom, free elections and a truly representative government.

Ali Safavi is a member of Iran’s Parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance.

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