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    Middle East
     Aug 24, 2007
Ahmadinejad held to election promises
By Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who came to power two years ago, winning 62% of the popular vote, is rapidly losing popularity for failure to make good on election promises to improve the lives of ordinary people by sharing Iran's vast oil revenues with them and to respect their private lives.

A poll run by the Tehran-based news website Baztab on the second anniversary of the elections that brought Ahmadinejad to power found his popularity plummeting. The poll of 20,000 people showed that 62.5% of respondents who voted for Ahmadinejad in

2005 would not elect him president again. And only 3.5% of those who did not vote for him said they would now vote for him for the presidency.

"The advocates of the [hardline] Ahmadinejad administration claim the Baztab poll was biased, but even a poll run by Fars news agency, which is known to be very pro-government, revealed that 44.6% of the respondents to the poll believed his economic policies had not had any positive effects on the economy, compared [with] 30.3% who believed he had made things better," a reformist activist in Tehran said on the condition of anonymity. Another 25.1% said things are worse economically than they were before Ahmadinejad came to power, said the activist.

"His campaign was mainly focused on promises of fighting corruption and improving people's lives economically," the activist said. "He claimed the oil money was being misappropriated and wasted. These were on the top of the list of the millions of ordinary people outside the minority hardline religious establishment, whose main concerns were issues of religious morality and religious values. The president's failure to deliver his economic promises has naturally disillusioned this large group of voters, who find themselves under even greater pressure than before.

"Voters clearly stated their disappointment with the government last December when they refused to vote for the electoral lists that the president's allies had put out for city councils and the Assembly of Experts. Things are worse now. Gasoline rationing and the problems it has caused in transportation, tourism, agriculture and many other areas are greatly contributing to people's disillusionment with the government," he said.

Criticism of the Ahmadinejad administration's performance in the economy is not limited to the reformists. Many among the hardliners and conservatives who joined forces to bring him to power are also very unhappy with his policies and their outcome. There is no ground anymore for saying the government should be granted more time, the hardline Jomhuri Eslami newspaper said in an editorial recently.

"Nearly two years have passed since the present administration became established. All this time has been enough for gaining mastery of things, control over whatever they needed to take control of and establishing order of whatever they wanted to give order to. Excuses such as saying their performance is hindered [by adversaries] are no longer acceptable to the people because the government enjoys the Supreme Leader's special support and no one and no group is able to stand up against such a government," the Jomhuri Eslami wrote.

Ahmadinejad persistently accuses his adversaries of sabotaging his government's efforts. "The mafia", as he calls them, were responsible for the shocking hike in housing prices, failure of the country's pharmaceutical system, and excessive importation of sugar, Aftab news agency reported the president as telling Parliament members from his native Semnan province recently. "The mafia" fabricated deceitful news to make the government look responsible for the increase in inflation, the president railed.

According to the results of an Internet poll run by Aftab, 66% of more than 66,000 respondents believe that wrong economic decisions by the government are the cause of inflation. Only 11% said problems created by his adversaries caused inflation, and 12% found the country's economic structure at fault.

"The problem is that the government wants to improve things through spending cash, and they have plenty of that at their disposal," an economic observer in Tehran said, requesting anonymity. "Government expenditures from oil revenues over the past two years amounted to [US]$120 billion, the highest during the past 20 years. [Mohammad] Khatami's and Hashemi Rafsanjani's governments had $30 billion and $29 billion to spend in their first two years respectively.

"When Khatami handed his office over to Ahmadinejad, $15 billion had been saved in the Oil Stabilization Fund. Inflation was constantly going down before Ahmadinejad took over, but the trend has reversed. The present government has succeeded in spending all the $120 billion in oil revenues as well as draining the fund and failed even to keep the economic growth rate, just above 5% now, at the level it had been," he said.

"The huge growth in liquidity, doubled in the past two years, is obviously the cause of the high inflation, but very stubbornly and categorically the president refuses to acknowledge the problem or to correct his ways."

The latest figure for inflation, for the three-month period ending last December, that was recently released by the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran was 14.2%, up from 12.6% in 2005. The International Monetary Fund has predicted inflation in Iran to rise to 17.6% this year, the third-highest among the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Critics in Iran claim the real inflation figure is much higher. Last year the Parliament Research Center found inflation at 21%, while the inflation rate announced by the central bank was 13.2%.

To control inflation and regulate the market, the government has opened the country up to imports by lowering, and in some cases removing, all tariffs. The huge increase in imports is damaging the national industries, agriculture and producers of household items, 57 economists cautioned the president in an open letter two months ago. The policy will also cause greater dependence on oil revenues and make the national economy more vulnerable to unexpected plunges in oil revenues, they warned him.

The administration's aggressive and unyielding foreign policy is seen by many as the cause of increasing isolation of Iran and the sanctions imposed on the country for refusing to halt its controversial nuclear program. Many foreign banks are now refusing to deal with Iran, and foreign companies, many of which have been working on Iran's oil and gas fields, are on their way out.

"For lack of a reasonable foreign policy our government has to bribe other countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Pakistan and India to win allies," the economic observer said.

During the past two years, Ahmadinejad has traveled to more than 350 cities and towns in various provinces with his cabinet members to meet the locals. During his provincial trips the president has been handed some 9 million petitions by the local people.

Seventy people have been appointed in the President's Office to look into the petitions, an official in the office said. Forty percent of those who gave petitions asked for financial assistance, 15% wanted help to find employment, 5% wanted housing assistance and another 5% needed assistance for medical care. The President's Office has so far granted more than $10 million as cash financial assistance to them, Bijan Shahbazkhani, a member of Parliament, was quoted by Aftab News as saying.

"Things might have been more bearable if we were at least given a share of the oil money," said the 35-year-old owner of a small restaurant at one of the Caspian area resorts badly stricken by gasoline rationing that has stopped the flow of holiday makers. "Ahmadinejad promised he would place food on our tables and jobs that were supposed to change our lives. We are offered low-interest loans to create our own jobs, but investment is very risky and most of the people I know who have received the loans are using the money in the profitable real-estate market.

"I even know a few people who want to return the loans they have received because they don't know what to do with the money to be able to pay the loan and the interest back.

"Ahmadinejad has failed us not only economically but also in other respects," he said. "At the time of his campaign, he expressly promised that his government would have nothing to do with the way people looked or dressed. For several months now the police have been harassing people on every corner for bad hejab [Islamic dress code] and all the things they consider immoral."

(Inter Press Service)

In Iran, all politics is local (Dec 15, '06)

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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Aug 22, 2007)


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