Staged Elections Are No Substitute for Real Democracy in Iran
Behbudi, Behrooz, The Middle East
Iran's Minister of Intelligence Haydar Moslehi has said the country's forthcoming parliamentary elections "present a major challenge to the ruling regime and the national security". Dr Behrooz Behbudi, the founder of the opposition Council for Democratic Iran, a US-based organisation that seeks to raise awareness about the absence of democracy in Iran, argues that the time has now come the Iranian people to vote for a new altogether, to secure democracy for the nation and the region.
The increasing rifts among the Iranian regime's factions on the grounds of the domestic socio-political problems, the economic hardship brought about to the nation through international sanctions and the looming of a military confrontation with western powers over the country's suspected nuclear programme have all created unprecedented conditions for major changes in the leadership structure of Iran and its relations with the world community.
The regime's internal isolation and ebbing legitimacy took new dimensions following the 2009 disputed presidential elections when it chose to crack down heavily on any voice of dissent, resulting in hundreds of deaths on the streets and in custody, thousands being jailed for their peaceful protests, and many more fleeing the country to avoid persecution.
As a consequence, in the eyes of the majority of the Iranian people their country is today ruled by a semimilitary and despotic regime in the form of an alliance between a faction of the Revolutionary Guards Corps with the most reactionary elements of Iran's religious establishment.
In this undemocratic coalition, the Revolutionary Guards have been given full and free access to Iran's oil and gas revenues, in return for their loyalty to an unelected circle of religious groupings, where the former uses its iron fist and military muscle to contain the opposition forces, while the latter provides "religious legitimacy" for their power sharing.
However, the rulers of Iran would still want us to believe that this evolved Islamic Republic is a democratic system and enjoys popular support among the nation. The regime's claims are based on the assumption that under its rule, ballot boxes determine the destiny of the Iranian people and consequently who should lead them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Two wings of one bird
At the time of Mohammad Khatami's presidency, Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei said that "the survival of the Islamic Republic system depends on the conservative and reformist factions acting as the two wings of a bird, and if one of them goes missing or is broken for any reason, the bird would certainly fall".
However, the reformists have been the target of an intense crackdown and purges within the regime over the last three years for their opposition to President Ahmadinejad's re-election (widely believed by most Iranians to have been engineered by Khamenei), with many of their leaders jailed and all their political parties banned.
As early as nine months ago, their surviving figures had set a number of conditions for the regime before they agreed to participate in the forthcoming Majlis "elections", including the release of their leaders, lifting the ban on their political activities and an equal and free access to the national TV and radio stations, among others, none of which have been accepted.
In fact, the demands have led to further crackdowns on even the most loyal opposition figures, leading powerful pro-Khamenei clerics like Ahmad Jannati to dismiss them as "the requests of a bunch of unashamed guilty and greedy individuals for forgiveness, so they can repeat their crimes against our leader and the nation". …