Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Iran’s Sham Presidential Election

 


To read the rash of media headlines about Iran’s presidential election last Friday, one might conclude that the contest produced a game-changer. From the excited buzz, one might think that liberalizing influences were at last beginning to make a dent on the brutal regime led by the 85-year-old Ayatollah Khameini and his clique of mullahs.

Masoud Pezeshkian’s victory took place in a runoff election to replace former President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner known for his ruthless suppression of dissent who died in a helicopter crash in May.

The NY Times, BCC, AP and other influential news outlets all touted the new president as a “reformer” and a “moderate” supporting better relations with the West. They cited his past career as a heart surgeon and his service in Iran’s parliament as the Minister of Health and Medical Education, as if these occupations were proof of a more liberal outlook.

Most reports highlighted Pezeshkian’s campaign promise to prioritize “negotiations with the United States for lifting sanctions” as indicative of his intent to revive the abandoned nuclear accord.

News pundits suggested Pezeshkian’s electoral win might shift the balance of power away from the country’s Islamist hardliners. Even Israel’s foreign minister Israel Katz joined the chorus, casting the election victory as “a defeat for the country’s Islamist leadership,” according to the Times of Israel.

Veteran Iran-observers, however, saw little grounds for the gush of international optimism over the election’s outcome. They noted that despite the appearance of an election and the victory of a “reformist,” the Iranian regime headed by a tight nucleus of Shi’ite clerics remains entrenched in a dictatorship that exerts a stranglehold on civil liberties.

 

A Democratic Charade

An opinion piece in The Hill called the election “a democratic charade,” explaining that “Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei retains his unyielding grip on power” while his inexperienced son, Mojtaba, is “waiting in the wings” to succeed him.

The stage is thus set “for a hereditary succession” as far removed from a democratic process as possible.

This projected father-to-son succession, recalling “the Persian dynasties of the past,” runs totally counter to the Islamic Republic’s founding principles and is likely instigating a power struggle within the regime’s inner circle, the writer stated.

How ironic that 45 years after the Islamic Revolution that deposed the Shah of Iran and uprooted the Pahlavi dynasty, the Islamic Republic born of that revolution appears on the verge of reenacting a similar trajectory.

An untutored religious cleric with a penchant for brutality, young Mojtaba is being readied to take control of the regime, his only qualification consisting of his status as the son of Ayatollah Khamenei.

A clear-eyed analysis in Politico observed that “votes for Pezeshkian were not necessarily out of hope for the better, but fear for something worse.”

“The recent Iranian elections exposed a nation in the grip of economic crisis leading to extreme voter apathy and civil unrest,” a separate report in The Hill observed. These problems “are compounded by Iran’s nuclear ambition that worsens its international isolation, and provokes sanctions leading to even more economic hardship.”

Increasingly isolated but fanatically driven to attain nuclear capability in its drive for dominance, “Iran is more dangerous than ever,” the writer attested.

Pezeshkian’s victory could help in posturing to the global audience in an attempt to ease pressure from the West, but does not mean much in terms of real change, the article said.

The writer noted that the presence of “a so-called reform candidate on the ballot” was likely orchestrated by Supreme Leader Khameini and his Guardian Council, with the aim of attracting more voters to the polls after abysmal turnouts in recent elections.

The article revealed that the 12-member Guardian Counsel headed by Khamenei vetted the pool of 80 would-be presidential candidates, and only a handful of cherry-picked candidates made it onto the ballot. (This vetting process ensures that only those who espouse a sufficiently hardline Islamic stance and possess anti-American and anti-Semitic bona fides, are permitted to participate.)

Despite the presence of a “reform candidate,” a sizable proportion of Iranians boycotted the polls, denouncing “sham elections.  Nearly 77 per cent of the voters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, reportedly did not vote for the presidential candidates.

According to numbers cited by Iran’s interior ministry, 30 million people voted in Friday’s election — barely 40 per cent of the country’s voters.” Skeptics say even that number is hugely inflated.

 

‘6 Million Votes in the Election’s Final Hours?’              

In addition to the record low turnout, doubts are rampant about the veracity of the election outcome. Political commentator and international journalist Ali Hossein Ghazizadeh highlighted the improbability of over 6 million votes being cast in the final four hours of voting, as Iranian authorities report.

“This number is not only unprecedented but also practically impossible,” Ghazizadeh said, according to the Indian Express.

The journalist explained that rural polling stations and those in small towns typically close before 10pm, and even in large cities, late-hour crowds are only seen at major polling stations. Peripheral areas experience virtually no crowds, he said, “making it practically impossible to collect six million votes in the final hours.”

“In the annals of political theater, Iran’s so-called ‘elections’ stand out as a grotesque parody of democracy,” declared political scientist and author Dr. Majid Rafizadeh in a scathing Gatestone Institute article.

“Iran’s sham ‘elections’ are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to legitimize authoritarian rule,” the writer scoffed. “By mislabeling these orchestrated spectacles as ‘elections,’ mainstream Western media perpetuate the regime’s propaganda and undermine the struggle for democracy within Iran.”

The article went on to slam news outlets that are culpable in what the author calls “a tacit endorsement of tyranny” by adopting Teheran’s false narrative.

The New York Times, CNN, and other influential media outlets, as well as many Western politicians, are complicit in perpetuating Iran’s deception by referring to its rigged processes as ‘elections.’ It is time for Western media and the global community to reject the false narrative of Iran’s “elections,” the article exhorted.

 

Voter Apathy, Civil Disobedience

A thought-provoking article in the Indian Express exposed civil disobedience in Iran as “the most significant factor in Iran’s politics today.”

The bitter memories of the 2022 Mahsa Amini anti-government protests “are still fresh among the younger generation of Iranians, who shape 65 to 70 per cent of the country’s population,” the article noted.

Jina Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman in her early 20s, died under suspicious circumstances on September 16, 2022, while in police custody. She had been arrested by Iran’s Morality Police for “improper attire” (not wearing a hijab), and succumbed after being beaten by authorities, as per the allegations of people who witnessed her being forced into a police van.

Amini’s death ignited furious protests across Iran, where anger toward the government was already building after years of economic hardship and an increase in austerity measures, including strict enforcement of dress and behavior codes.

This was at a time when former Iranian President Raisi was ramping up government spending on citizen-surveillance and censorship in an effort to stabilize the country.

Although Iran had been beset by several massive protests in recent years, the protests ignited by Amini’s death proved to be the greatest eruption of unrest within Iran since the 1979 revolution.

The demonstrations began on a local scale but soon spread to other cities across Iran and continued through the fall and winter of 2022. Women began to increasingly appear in public without wearing the compulsory headscarf as police retaliation for this “crime” seemed to have been curbed. Rumors abounded that the government might scrap the hijab law altogether.

These rumors died as the Iranian regime launched a bloody crackdown at the beginning of 2023 that saw 20,000 protesters arrested and 550 others killed.

In January 2023, the judiciary announced harsher sentencing for violators of the dress code. In March, the government began using surveillance cameras to enforce it.

In July, the Gasht-e Ershad—strict clerical rule—returned to the streets as hundreds of women across the country were arrested, imprisoned and sent to “re-education” camps.

 

Pezeshkian’s Ties to IRGC

International news outlets that portray Pezeshkian as advocating looser enforcement of the jihab law and the fostering of better international relations, are echoing Pezeshkian’s political allies who reinvented him as a reformist, an article posted on Iran International contended.

In the run-up to the presidential election, this group cast Pezeshkian as a critic of IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) rather than a supporter. Yet Pezeshkian’s parliamentary career, which started in 2008 and continues to this day, starkly contrasts with this portrayal.

Separate from Iran’s traditional armed forces, the IRGC is a parallel military body formed during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It maintains its own air, land, and naval branches and is responsible for protecting Iran’s regime.

Its special operations unit, the Quds Force, has helped establish proxy militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and heavily influences allied terror groups throughout the Middle East.

IRGC reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and has an estimated 125,000 fighters, with army, navy, and air units. It also commands the Basij religious militia, a paramilitary force that has been used by Iran’s clerics to crack down on anti-government protesters.

In 2019, when then-US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC a terrorist organization, Pezeshkian and his colleagues pushed the regime’s leadership to escalate tensions with the United States in retaliation, the article says.

They introduced legislation under the title “Strengthening the position of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps against the United States,” which was swiftly signed into law. [See Sidebar]

This act consolidated more power for the IRGC, tightening its grip on the Iranian government and other institutions within the Islamic Republic.

Pezeshkian also wore the Revolutionary Guard uniform alongside fellow parliamentarians in solidarity with the IRGC, one day after Trump’s designation of the group as a terrorist organization.

During the current presidential election debates, the presidential candidate expressed unconditional support for the IRGC, describing their missiles and drones as “a source of pride.”

Already in the early hours after the announcement of the election outcome, Supreme Leaders Ali Khamenei called on the new president to publicly announce that he would continue the path of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, known by the Iranian resistance as Mass Murderer Raisi.

With no further need for diplomacy, Pezeshkian declared his complete subordination to Khamenei, pledging to “achieve the goals desired by the supreme leader.”

His act of obeisance should put to rest all hope of the new president bringing any change to the regime’s repressive policies toward its own citizens, and its warmongering against Israel and the United States.

 

One of the First to Mandate Hijab for Women

Most of the media accounts praising Pezeshkian as a moderate and a reformist neglect to mention that despite his campaign pledge to remove draconian enforcement of the hijab law, he himself admitted to being among the first to prohibit women who were not wearing a hijab from entering universities and hospitals, after the 1979 Islamic takeover.

This was before the hijab policy was mandated nationwide.

Pezeshkian’s criticism of authorities for treating women harshly is inconsistent with his voting record, during his tenure in the Iranian parliament, that favored laws restricting women’s rights, insiders say.

Ironically, “Pezeshkian has never claimed to be a reformist. Nor has he been a member of reformist parties or groups in the last three decades,” writes Iran International, a publication of the Iranian resistance.

When it comes to being a “moderate,” Pezeshkian’s track record has shown that he is no different from hardline Islamist opponent Jalili and the other candidates,” the article said.

Perhaps the feature most revealing of Pezeshkian’s radical Islamic mentality is his hostility toward Israel.

In December 2008, during his tenure in parliament, Pezeshkian and 39 other members proposed a bill titled “Obliging the Government to Provide All-round Support to Palestine,” which called for significant Iranian intervention in Gaza.

This plan sought to prevent Israeli goods from entering Iran and prohibited contracts with companies whose principal shareholders were Israeli entities. Implementing this plan intensified Iran’s political confrontation with Western countries, leading to significant economic costs due to disrupted trade.

In line with the law introduced by Pezeshkian and his cronies that pandered to the mullahs’ hatred of Israel, the regime has pursued its policies of hostile aggression to the present day, even to its own economic detriment.

While campaigning for the presidency, Pezeshkian and his team tried to distance themselves from their unsavory record of anti-western aggression. In recent economic and political debates, Pezeshkian repeatedly emphasized the necessity of having better relations with other countries, “except Israel.”

In contrast to the rosy conjectures about a newly elected “reformist” painted by sanguine news outlets following Pezeshkian’s election, Iran’s new president appears to be as conservative and hardline an Islamist as the rest of the mullahs presiding over Iran’s tyrannical regime.

*****

Trump, Israel Take Out IRGC Leaders

In January 2020, missiles fired by a U.S. drone under the direction of President Trump destroyed the convoy of arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani, the then-commander of the elite Quds Force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that coordinates Iran’s proxy armies.

Soleimani was in the process of arming Palestinian resistance groups and coordinating regional terrorist operations.

Not surprisingly, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the killing as unlawful “absent an imminent threat to life.” Many other voices, however, joined Senator Lindsey Graham in praising President Trump’s decision as a righteous blow against an arch-terrorist with American blood on his hands.

On April 1, 2024, an alleged Israeli airstrike near Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Syria killed seven members of the IRGC.  Among those killed was a top IRGC commander, Mohammad Reza Zahedi who headed all Iranian terror operations against Israel from Syria, Lebanon, and the “Palestinian sphere.”

Zahedi’s killing was the most senior IRGC official to be killed since the 2020 killing of Soleimeni. In the early hours of April 14, 2024, sirens and explosions were heard nationwide in Israel, as the Iranian regime launched a wave of more than 300 drones and missiles in a retaliatory attack on the Jewish state.

Its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen also fired drones and rockets at Israel to accompany Tehran’s air strikes.

As is well known, in a string of open miracles, the barrage of missiles and rockets caused no casualties.

Nine or more Iranian missiles struck two Israeli airbases, doing only minor damage. A large percentage of the drones and missiles missed Israeli soil, or were shot out of the sky in joint operations by the United States, Britain, France and Jordan.

 

Iran’s Proxy Network

Iran’s support for both Hamas and Hezbollah is part of its broader strategy to bolster its drive for regional hegemony and remove Western powers from the region. Proxy armies can carry out Teheran’s goals including striking out at the West and calling for Israel’s destruction, allowing the Iranian regime to elude responsibility for the attacks.

Fighters from Shiite Muslim–majority countries such as Iraq and Lebanon comprise Iran’s main proxies, but terrorist groups from the Sunni-majority Palestinian territories such as Syria, and Yemen have also formed ties with Iran.

At the heart of this network is Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and powerful armed force notorious for its terrorist acts. Iran has been its main supporter and patron since the terror group was founded in the early 1980s.

With its economy crumbling, unemployment soaring and citizens living beneath the poverty line, Teheran continues to ignore its citizens in favor of pouring billions into providing Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis and other terror groups with financial support, weapons, rocket technology and training.

It’s as if its leaders are in a suicidal bubble set on a collision course with the reality of a moribund regime.

The proxy war strategy has had the advantage of shielding Iran from direct retaliation by the United States, as the Biden administration has focused its response on proxies,” Iran expert Ray Takeyh explains on the Council for Foreign Relations site.

Iran has successfully employed this strategy throughout the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Intelligence sources theorize that Iran may be coordinating with Hezbollah to open a new front against Israel in the Mediterranean. The objective is to neutralize the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, which Hezbollah perceives as its greatest threat.

Many experts believe Iran strongly prefers to avoid outright war with the United States or Israel. Still, that doesn’t mean that war will not result from such a spiraling crisis.

 

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