The surprise re-election of incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the first round itself of the Iranian Presidential elections on June 12,2009, has been questioned by his opponents in the reformist camp, who had backed his leading opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi. According to the results announced by the Interior Ministry, Ahmadinejad secured 62.6 per cent of the votes polled and Mousavi only 33.8 per cent.
Reliable reports from Iran during the election campaign did not speak of any pro-Ahmadinejad wave. On the contrary, there were reports of unusual support for Mousavi, the reformist candidate, who had promised a change from the confrontationist policies of the incumbent President.
The unusually large turn-out of 85 per cent of the eligible voters strengthened the impression of an anti-Ahmadinejad wave and gave rise to expectations of a possible Mousavi victory in the first round itself. The announcement by the Interior Ministry that Ahmadinejad has been voted back with a huge majority has stunned his opponents, who suspect widespread rigging by the official machinery to ensure the continuance in power of Ahmadinejad.
There have been reports of sporadic violent incidents by the angry members of the reformist groups who have questioned the validity of the results. Over 100 leading members and cadres of the reformist groups are reported to have been arrested.
Opponents of Ahmadinejad can challenge his election before the Guardian Council before Sunday, but the Council, which has traditionally been against the reformists, is unlikely to set the election aside. The endorsement of the election results by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, makes it unlikely that the challenges of the opposition will be accepted.
With the backing of Ayatollah Khamenei , Ahmadinejad should have no difficulty in putting down any street violence if it persists. The reformists too may like to avoid a confrontational situation over the disputed election.
From the initial pronouncements of Ahmadinejad, who has hailed his re-election as an epic moment, it is apparent that he is not embarrassed by the opposition allegations of rigging and is confident of the legitimacy of his re-election ultimately prevailing.
The country most concerned by the re-election of Ahmadinejad would be Israel. There is unlikely to be any change in his hardline, virulent stand against Israel and the Jewish people and he will continue with his policy of seeking to undermine the Jewish State. He will press ahead with Iran’s nuclear programme by expanding its capacity for uranium enrichment by installing more centrifuges under the pretext of producing low-grade enriched uranium for the production of electricity.
At a time, when Israel is confused and disheartened by the less than enthusiastic support for its security concerns from the Barack Obama Administration, the re-election of Ahmadinejad would add to its fears regarding the security of the country and its citizens living in the midst of a hostile Islamic world.
What gave confidence and optimism to Israel in the past was the steadfast support from a succession of American Presidents. Right from the birth of the State of Israel, successive US Presidents had not hesitated to strongly endorse and support the security concerns of Israel. For the first time, the US has a President, who has been showing a worrisome insensitivity to the concerns of Israel and the Jewish people and has been trying to project a picture of neutrality in the confrontation between the Jewish people and the Arabs and Iranians, in the belief, which could prove to be mistaken, that he could thereby win the hearts and minds of the Arabs and other Muslims.
At a time when large sections of the people of Israel feel increasingly that their basic interests have been betrayed by Obama, the re-election of Ahmadinejad, who had in the past vowed to work against the existence of Israel, would add to Israeli fears of an existential threat to the Jewish State and strengthen its determination to act against Iran before it acquires a military nuclear capability.
Presuming that the large number of votes that Ahmadinejad reportedly obtained were genuine and not rigged, the rallying of so many voters behind him could be attributed only partially to their support for his pro-poor economic policies. Another major reason ought to have been their endorsement of his hardline policy towards Israel and the US and his determination to press ahead with Iran’s nuclear programme. It is a strong nationalistic vote meant to support the foreign and nuclear policies hitherto followed by Ahmadinejad.
The US would have hoped for the victory of the reformists. These hopes have been belied and the US would have to make do with Ahmadinejad. Iran is not North Korea. North Korea has only the nuclear and missile cards against the US. Iran has many--- its oil, the support enjoyed by it in the Islamic world, its perceived indispensability for peace and stability in Iraq and a similar role that it could play in Afghanistan. With so many cards in its hands, Obama will find Iran a tough nut to crack.
The US has had the Israeli card against Iran. Teheran was always nervous about the possibility of the US encouraging Israel to put Iran in its place if the worst comes to the worst. Obama has thrown away that card much to the relief of Iran.
If Iran spurns Obama’s overtures to it and follows on its nuclear and anti-Israel path, Obama has not kept a fall-back option for himself. In his anxiety to project a "good guy" image of himself right across the Islamic world, including Iran, Obama has unwittingly encouraged hardline elements such as Ahmadinejad, who have no genuine love for the US and who will lose no opportunity to make the interests of the Islamic world prevail over those of the international community.
The US may have to pay a heavy price for Obama’s policy U-turns in the Arab world and towards Iran.
Who will have the last laugh--Obama or the likes of Ahmadinejad, Kim-Jong-il, Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Afghan Taliban, or Osama bin Laden? One wishes it will be Obama, but one apprehends it may not be him.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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