Middle East Features
ANALYSIS: Ahmadinejad suffers setback in Iranian elections
By Farshid Motahari Mar 4, 2012, 3:36 GMT
Iranian women fill their ballot during the Iranians parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, 02 March 2012. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
Tehran - Preliminary results out of Iran suggest the conservative faction opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won the country's parliamentary elections by a landslide.
While noting that estimates suggesting the so-called Principalists may have gained as much as 75 per cent of votes cast should be taken with a generous pinch of salt, a political analyst in Tehran who asked not to be named said there was little doubt that Ahmadinejad had been 'knocked down by his local rivals.'
Although the elections for the 290 seats composing the country's legislative body have no major impact on many of the country's policies, particularly on foreign and nuclear issues, they are still regarded as Ahmadinejad's first major national test since his re-election in 2009.
'Ahmadinejad seems to have lost the trust and the support of his former allies and the pressure against him is no longer only from abroad, but also at home,' a former reformist official said.
Besides the election failure, the president also faces potential political embarrassment on March 8, when he will be summoned to answer questions from lawmakers about his mishandling of the economy.
Turnout figures, closely watched as a gauge of support for the country's establishment, has been estimated at about 64 per cent - a figure contested by the opposition.
However, even if correct, it suggests that some 17 million eligible voters decided not to cast their ballots, presumably to protest at Ahmadinejad's rule.
The president's main differences with the conservatives, who call themselves Principalists due to their loyalty to the Islamic establishment, are first and foremost of an economic nature. Ahmadinejad has failed to introduce promised reforms designed to help his supporters among the country's lower and middle classes.
But broader political and ideological differences have also emerged, with close advisors of the president accused of undermining the Islamic dimensions of the political system and seeking to replace them with nationalistic sentiments.
'That is regarded by the ultraconservatives as a step towards secularism and the beginning of the end of the clergy,' a foreign diplomat in Tehran said.
The conservatives, therefore, have been unusually forthcoming in their opposition to the president during the election campaign.
'This, however is only the beginning: the main showdown is the presidential race in June 2013,' a local journalist noted.
The victory by conservatives loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not expected to bring any major changes, as they already commanded a majority in the parliament. Moreover, strategic decisions, including nuclear decisions, are made by Khamenei and his close advisors.
But change may come after the presidential race. While Ahmadinejad cannot run for a third consecutive term, conservatives still fear that he might promote a candidate whom he would then succeed, much like Vladmir Putin has done in Russia.
'The issue is no longer Ahmadinejad himself, but any ideology related to him,' the political analyst said.
Ahmadinejad's favourite candidate is his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who also happens to be the father-in-law of his son.
Rahim-Mashaei is, however, branded by conservatives as the head of the 'deviant current' - the term used for the Ahmadineaj wing - and even accused by some clergy circles if seeking to push the Mullahs out of power.
The main challenger in the 2013 race is expected to be Ali Larijani, the current and most likely also the next parliamentary speaker.
Following Ahmadinejad's first election in 2005, Larijani was supposed to act as the president's right hand and the country's chief nuclear negotiator.
But their political liaison only lasted two years, with the two then parting ways due to 'irreconcilable differences.'
Their enmity is now 'an open secret and can no longer be hidden,' an Iranian journalist said.
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