The Iranian regime seems adept at assigning paradoxical functionalities to certain political or economic tools and mechanisms. Construction cranes, for example, are meant to help erect buildings and further economic progress everywhere else in the world. But, in Iran, they are used to hang people.
Likewise, political elections are the cornerstone of the world’s representative governments, but in Iran, they are used to uphold the rule of an unelected few.
No matter how nominal in character, elections can inundate an authoritarian system with poisonous anomalies. Take the upcoming March 14 parliamentary (Majlis) elections in Iran. The power struggle preceding it is causing unavoidable chasms and predicaments for a regime already embroiled in significant domestic and external crises.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his handpicked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have stepped up attempts to purge a majority of the candidates belonging to the factions affiliated with former presidents Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami. They have not stopped there; several candidates of their own faction, viewed as not loyal enough, have also received the axe.
Out of nearly 7,600 prospective candidates, the Interior Ministry (controlled by Ahmadinejad) and the Guardian Council (controlled by Khamenei) have disqualified no less than 2,700 candidates. And, that is just the beginning.
As things stand now, even if all of the remaining rival candidates win Majlis seats, they would end up with fewer than 80 seats in the 290-seat parliament, and be incapable of challenging the pro-Khamenei faction’s controlling power.
Somewhat expectedly, Khatami called this trend "a catastrophe." But, the purge has also elicited vocal protest from many high-ranking clerics including some close to Khamenei himself. One of them, Bayat Shirazi, recently warned, "If we don’t resist against the wave of purges, the future of the revolution and Islamic republic would be at risk."
Despite all this, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei seem to be bent on grabbing every single lever of power by allowing the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) to gradually slither into and eventually dominate the regime’s main power centers. This in turn necessitates the difficult but crucial task of sidelining all other factions.
Maj. Gen. Muhammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the IRGC commander in chief, speaking at the convention of paramilitary Basij Force (run by the IRGC) clearly stated, "If the Basij desires a role in the elections â€“ which I believe it does with the blessings of the supreme leader â€“ it should safeguard, complete and expand the trend which has already been set in motion."
Meanwhile, the regime is also intensifying efforts to export terrorism and fundamentalism in order to evade further foreign pressure. In Iraq, for example, the IRGC’s extraterritorial arm, the Qods Force, is carrying out a "surge" of its own, which is intended to extend and solidify the regime’s gains in that country.
Ironically, back in Iran, the regime’s attempts to solidify its own rule is wrought with unprecedented complications. The purge of rival factions in the midst of the Majlis election process is an indication that the regime feels immensely vulnerable and weak, prompting it to close ranks.
However, in strategic terms, such tactics only work to further undermine the regime as a whole. In a rare statement from Iranian authorities, Jafari acknowledged that the need to export terrorism comes from the regime’s vulnerability in the face the Iranian people’s uncompromising acrimony toward it.
"Animosity with our revolution is a never ending process. As we move forward, the battle between the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries becomes more critical and complicated," Jafari said.
Moreover, during the election process, the Khatami and Rafsanjani camps clearly demonstrated that they have neither the ability nor the will to resist being driven to the margins of power. They are inept to change the situation in their favor, even while the Khamenei faction is itself imbued with increasing backbiting and bickering. Most prominent among these is the feud between Ali Larijani, the former chief nuclear negotiator, and Ahmadinejad.
This is indicative of the fact that in confronting a more brazen Tehran in the future, it would be utterly naÃ¯ve to bet on internal factions’ non-existent want or capacity to initiate, let alone sustain, any sort of change.
The purges prior to the Majlis vote will render the ruling clique more vulnerable and fragile and will further diminish its power base within the regime. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that a dramatic rise in crackdowns has failed to quell the outburst of popular protests. The more than 5,000 anti-government demonstrations and uprisings across the country last year highlighted the Iranian people’s disdain for the mullahs and their demand for regime change.
Iran’s parliament-in-exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, held its bi-annual session in early February, presided over by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the Council’s president-elect. In its concluding statement the Council noted, "It is quite obvious that the oppressed people of Iran will boycott an election which is aimed to violate their sovereign rights; and serves, more than anything, to settle differences between rival factions within the regime."
By condemning this charade and further isolating the turbaned tyrants of Iran, the international community should stand with the Iranian people in their quest for freedom, free elections and a truly representative government.
Ali Safavi is a member of Iran’s Parliament-in-Exile, the National Council of Resistance.