Tuesday, June 21, 2005

DEBKAfile - Rafsanjani Mulls Quitting Presidential Race

DEBKAfile - Rafsanjani Mulls Quitting Presidential Race: " Rafsanjani Mulls Quitting Presidential Race

DEBKAfile’s Exclusive Report from Tehran
June 21, 2005, 1:22 PM (GMT+02:00)
21 June: By Monday night, June 20, rumors were swirling around Tehran that Iran’s non-elected strongman, Ayatollah Ali Khameni had found a way of rigging the presidential election. Round one took place last Friday, June 17, and the run-off is scheduled for Friday, June 24. The favorite, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, barely pulled ahead of a contestant who popped up out of the blue, the extremist Tehran mayor Mahmud Ahmadinez. He faces him again on Friday.

Rafsanjani, speaking of a “tarnished” election, was not alone. The Guardian Council was forced by more such accusations to allow a recount of 100 randomly selected vote boxes in between rounds.

DEBKAfile’s Iranian experts maintain that “spiritual ruler” Khameini would never have left the presidential election to chance. A special brew must have been cooked up in his bureau for a near nonentity like Ahmadinez to pick up 5.7 million votes compared with the charismatic former president Rafsanjani’s 6.1 million ballots.

Reformist candidate Dr. Mostafa Mo-In, who came in fifth, accused the all-powerful body of spending millions to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Islamic militiamen to get a hardliner president voted in. By any true standards, Mo-In should have done much better in a country where half the electorate is under 30 and pining for a better life and democratic liberties.

Another complainer was former majlis speaker Hojjat-ol Eslam Mahdi Karrubi, a reformist candidate widely expected to place second. He was blunter than Mo-In, charging a general call-up had been arranged on voting day for Revolutionary Guards officers, men and reservists who were sent to cast their ballots for the Tehran mayor. Another failed candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a former commander of Iran’s internal security forces, leveled a similar charge.

But none of the candidates were let into a critical secret, revealed here by DEBKAfile’s sources: Khamenei surreptitiously instructed all the religious leaders, heads of medressas, seminaries and Islamic revolutionary bodies to throw their combined weight behind Ahmadinez and not spread their votes among the other six candidates.

The message was carried by the extremist senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammaed Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the religious authority behind the Iranian fatwa that automatically sentences political opponents of the Islamic regime to death.

The enigma remains of why the spiritual ruler picked the colorless Tehran mayor over the other conservative candidates as his favorite, when none of the field was exactly left-wing liberals? Why humiliate his longtime close friend, ally and adviser Rafsanjani?

The answer may be found in Ahmadinez’s campaign speeches. He constantly harped on such phrases as: we did not fight a revolution for the sake of democracy. We must stifle at birth every voice challenging the revolution. We must mobilize as one man to support the spiritual ruler and obey him. To those who would offer Iran to America on a silver tray, we say: We will never let this happen!

These sentiments chime closely with the advice Khamenei has been receiving from his close advisers. They have been telling him he must intensify the crackdown against internal dissenters straight after the elections. They warn that the laxness and liberal ways practiced by the outgoing president Mohammed Khatami in his eight years in office have brought the country to the verge of civil rebellion. This must be stifled before it gets out of hand.

This same inner circle - radical clerics and ambitious Revolutionary Guards commanders - is pressing for a greater share in government and important state decisions, so as to sustain the country’s advances on the development of nuclear arms and long-range missiles. Khamenei’s power as unelected spiritual ruler depends heavily on the support of these two groups.

The man they want in the presidency is the tough-minded, stern Ahmadinez. They believe they can count on him to further harden the Islamic republic’s posture on nuclear weapons and intensify its sponsorship of Islamic terrorism worldwide.

While aware that Rafsanjani also advocates an Iranian nuclear bomb and favors support for terrorist organizations, Western governments believe he is pragmatic and flexible enough to appreciate that the Islamic regime requires a sensible balance of its interests. They hope therefore that, out of a stable of conservatives, he will be elected president. With him they can do business on both issues in return for generous economic incentives. Domestically too, he is expected to preserve the limited civil liberties granted by Khatami.

DEBKAfile’s Iranian experts postulate two alternative motives for Khamenei’s abrupt desertion of his ally Rafsanjani:

Either Khamenei engineered a stunning victory his old friend Rafsanjani in the second round and therefore chose a colorless contestant to run against him.

Or, Khamenei never trusted his close ally Rafsanjani’s ambitions and found a way to bring him low once and for all by encouraging him to run as favorite candidate. Above all, he fears Rafsanjani may decide to amend the Islamic constitution to limit the spiritual ruler’s authority and powers. The candidate recently remarked he was willing to let the constitution be amended to meet opposition demands.

The outcome of the run-off next Friday will indicate which of the two theories fits the facts, as well as pointing to the path the Islamic republic has chosen to follow in the next stage of its history. But if Rafsanjani decides to back down and quit the race at the last ditch, that too will betray his conviction that the spiritual ruler has stacked the chips against him and he has chosen to avoid a second humiliation."