| Iran's 'street sweeper' sweeps into
By Safa Haeri
a vote described by some political analysts as a
"political tsunami", Iranians have elected a
"street sweeper" as their president, sending
packing the country's intelligentsia,
bourgeois-liberal society, official reformists and
diehard dissidents who have been calling for a
complete change of the present ruling system.
"I take pride in being the Iranian
nation's little servant and street sweeper," the
49-year-old mayor of Tehran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad
said as he was casting his vote on Friday and
winning the race with his millionaire rival,
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a
landslide of 61 to 39 percent of votes.
The victory of the austere and pious
Ahmadinejad stunned both Iranian observers and the
world, as, in the week between the first and
second round of elections, most large circulation
newspapers, influential commentators, candidates
who were defeated in the first round, and leaders
of the largest reformist political parties and
organizations, joined by pro-reform student
associations and Iranian dissidents abroad, had
rallied behind Rafsanjani, warning against the
dangers of "military fascism" represented by
Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guards
officer. Ahmadinejad had already caused a surprise
by finishing a narrow second to Rafsanjani in the
first round of voting.
some analysts, the election was a replay of 1979,
when the great majority of Iranians took to the
streets in support for Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution. According to
Ahmadinejad, "Iranian people are a special nation.
We should know this people and make them known. It
is a nation of history makers."
other candidates, the
"street sweeper" avoided expensive, American-style
campaigning, grandiloquent speeches and controversial international issues
such a relations with the United States and
nuclear issues. He concentrated rather on poor people's
problems and expressed their grievances: "Why does a minister or a
deputy minister spend millions for the decoration
of his office while his real job is not in Tehran,
but in the provinces?" he asked, adding, "How come
some private banks make billions in profits in a
few years?".He also indirectly accused Rafsanjani
of having "monopolized" the lucrative Oil
losers of this election warn of a return of the
country to "dark middle ages" and
"Islamic inquisition", seasoned Iranian analysts are more
reserved, observing that the "occupation" of the presidency
by the ruling conservatives makes decision-making
and governance "more stable, more practical, more
"With Mr Ahmadinejad
considered as a faithful son and adept" of Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "the political
situation in Tehran will become more homogenized.
There will be no more feuding between the leader
and the president, paralyzing the country ... now
[Ayatollah] Khamenei is fully at the helm, getting
the credit if things get better and also the blame
if people are not satisfied," noted Sadeq Ziba
Kalam, a Tehran University professor talking to
Radio Farda, a Persian service of the US
government-sponsored Radio Free Europe-Radio
In his first statement after his
victory, Ahmadinejad promised he would "build up
an exemplary, developed and powerful Islamic
society" and invited other candidates to
cooperate: "Today, all competition should turn
into friendship. We are part of a big family that
should go hand in hand to build our proud Iran."
Nevertheless, the new president will face serious
challenges from both right and left. Hardline
clerics will press him to restore a fully Islamic
society based on the laws of the Sharia, or
Islamic canons. The poor class that voted for him
will expect him to quickly solve their pressing
problems - unemployment, inflation, social
security, food, housing, and widespread
On the left, while the
middle class, the younger generation and women
are worried that their limited social and
cultural freedom will be further restricted, the
political class is concerned about
Ahmadinejad's social-communist economic views and
aggressive foreign policies. They fear a collapse of
the country's already ailing economy and
more isolation on the international scene, paving
the way eventually to foreign military intervention.
To those who fear increased tension in
Iranian relations with Washington and the European
Union over Iran's controversial nuclear
activities, both outgoing President Mohammad
Khatami and his successor have responded that
foreign policy and nuclear ambitions are not
issues decided by the government, but by the
supreme leader, who, under the Iranian
constitution, has the last word on all major
issues, domestic or international.
Ahmadinejad told reporters: "The Islamic
Republic is not afraid of restoring relations with
America, but one must carefully calculate the
benefits and damages of such a decision in order
that our independence, honor and dignity are not
harmed." He added: "I want sincere and close
relations with all nations and governments and we
are ready to have a positive interaction towards
any government that does not take the position of
animosity towards us."
On the nuclear
issue, Ahmadinejad said: "Access to nuclear
technology is our legitimate right and no one has
the right to stop our march to progress.
Furthermore, no country can attack Iran and the
threats that are proffered are designed to
frighten us, leading to giving away our nuclear
projects. But we shall not surrender."
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani,
the Secretary of Iran's Supreme Council on National
Security and Iran's chief negotiator with both
the European troika of Britain, France and Germany
and the International Atomic Energy Agency,
had previously stated that the nuclear program,
including enriching uranium, would continue,
"regardless of whoever becomes president".
Unlike England and the United
States, which branded the election as "undemocratic"
and promised to support dissidents "who call
for greater freedom for the Iranian people",
France and Germany said they would reserve judgment
until the new president's policies became clearer.
For Rafsanjani, the 71-year-old
veteran politician who has for the past 26 years been
the number two man in the theocratic political
system, it was a very heavy personal defeat, similar
to February 2005 parliamentary elections in which he
could not secure enough votes from Tehran
inhabitants to enter the Majlis (parliament).
Rafsanjani said that "like the previous
round" (of elections held on 17 July 2005), he
would take his complaints to the "divine court of
justice" and protest about "the billions of the
people's money" spent on "damaging and ruining"
him and his family as well as against "illegal
intervention ... using the system's possibilities"
- referring indirectly to both the military and
the Council of Guardians, an unelected organ in
charge of vetting all candidates in all elections,
acting in favour of Ahmadinejad. However,
Rafsanjani wished the new president well and hoped
he could carry out his difficult task.
"Probably, the former president [Rafsanjani] is not
aware of the degree to which Iranians hate him and
his family, considering him as the symbol of high
corruption, nepotism, political manipulation [and
also blaming him for] participation in the murder
of many Iranian intellectuals and dissidents
inside and outside the country," observed an
Iranian writer based in Germany.
Though Rafsanjani, chairman
of the powerful Expediency Council had indicated
on Thursday that "regardless of the outcome of the
ballot boxes" he would create a new "Islamic
Moderation Party", and despite the strong message
of sympathy from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in favor
of his "old brother and friend", his political
future has been thrown into serious doubt.
Haeri is a Paris-based Iranian journalist
covering the Middle East and Central Asia.
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