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2005-06-27

Conservative Tehran Mayor Wins Upset Victory in Iran Run-Off Presidential Election

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Tehran’s conservative mayor won an upset victory in Iran’s run-off presidential election on Friday. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad garnered 62 percent of 28 million votes, beating reformist former-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. We speak with Baruch College professor Ervand Abrahamian and Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy. [includes rush transcript]

Tehran’s conservative mayor won an upset victory in Iran’s run-off presidential election on Friday. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad garnered 62 percent of 28 million votes, beating reformist former-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

In his first press conference as president-elect, Ahmadinejad backed up Iran’s nuclear program but said he would continue negotiations with three European nations.

While Rafsanjani said in his campaign that he would work to improve relations with the United States, Ahmadinejad announced he would not seek rapprochement.

  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, news conference in Tehran, June 26, 2005.

Ahmadinejad rode to victory on a populist platform appealing to working people and the many young people affected by Iran’s high rate of unemployment.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld followed up on the early dismissal of the elections by Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice and President Bush.

  • Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on Fox News, June 26, 2005.

While Ahmadinejad’s victory was overwhelming, there have been some charges of vote rigging. Reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi resigned from two high-ranking government posts last week after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to investigate allegations of irregularities. Ahmadinejad also had help from the Basij Islamist volunteer militia, which worked to turn out voters.

Reformists are calling the victory a coup for the elite theocracy, though no one is entirely sure how Ahmadinejad will come down on civil liberties and women’s rights.

He has long worked with some of Iran’s country’s most conservative institutions, from the Basij to the Revolutionary Guards. His victory gives conservatives control of Iran’s two highest elected offices–the presidency and parliament. When he takes office in August, Ahmedinejad will be Iran’s first non-cleric president for 24 years.

  • Ervand Abrahamian, Professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian history at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the author of several books on Iran including "Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic" and "The Iranian Mojahedin."
  • Norman Solomon, of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He was in Tehran, Iran for the first round of presidential elections. His latest book is "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: While Rafsanjani said in his campaign he would work to improve relations with the U.S., Ahmadinejad announced he would not seek rapprochement.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: We want to expand just and respectful relations with all nations. The policy of the Islamic Republic towards the United States has been stated many times before. With its self-belief and self-reliance, our nation continues on the path of progress. And in this path does not have any significant need for relations with the United States. We will pay attention to relations with any country that bears no hostile intent towards us.

AMY GOODMAN: Iranian President-Elect Ahmadinejad, speaking on Sunday at a news conference. He rode to victory on a populist platform appealing to working people and the many young people affected by Iran’s high rate of unemployment. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld followed up on the early dismissal of the elections by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush. He spoke on Fox on Sunday.

DONALD RUMSFELD: There were over 1,000 candidates that were disqualified that weren’t even allowed to run. So, the fact that they had a mock election and elected a hard-liner ought not to come as any surprise to anybody, because all the other people were told they couldn’t run. It’s against the law. Now, I don’t know much about this fellow. He’s young. He’s — I have read backgrounds on him, but he is no friend of democracy. He is no friend of freedom. He is a person who is very much supportive of the current Ayatollahs who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time, the young people and the women will find him, as well as his masters, unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. While, Ahmadinejad’s victory was overwhelming, there have been some charges of vote rigging. Reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi resigned from two high-ranking government posts last week after the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to investigate allegations of irregularities. Ahmadinejad also had help from the Basij Islamic volunteer militia which worked to turn out voters.

Reformists are calling the victory a coup for the elite theocracy though no one is entirely sure how Ahmadinejad will come down on civil liberties and women’s rights. He has long worked with some of Iran’s most conservative institutions, from the Basij to the Revolutionary Guard. His victory gives conservatives control of Iran’s two highest elected offices: the presidency and parliament. When he takes office in August, Ahmadinejad will be Iran’s first non-cleric president for 24 years.

We’re joined in the studio now by Ervand Abrahamian. He is Professor of Iranian History at Baruch College, author of a number of books, including Inventing the Axis of Evil. We’re also joined on the telephone by Norman Solomon. Norman Solomon is with the Institute for Public Accuracy. He was in Tehran for the first round of presidential elections. His book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Let’s begin with our guest in the studio. Professor Abrahamian, can you talk about the significance of this election, and the choice of the Tehran mayor?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, the significance is at two levels: the internal and external. Internally, I think what it shows is the salient importance of class. You can’t understand Iranian politics without class, but some years, it’s a hidden issue, some years it’s open. During the Iranian Revolution, it was very much of an open issue. In the last few elections, it’s been basically covered up by other issues, also important, but issues such as gender, cultural issues, lifestyle issues. But in this election, the candidate was permitted to pick up this issue and run with it. And it was — obviously resonated very much with the public. And the interesting thing is why he was permitted to use the issue. If a reformist had tried to use this issue, they would have been really silenced right away. So this comes into internal, I think, personality conflicts within the regime.

Internationally, the election is significant. Actually, I think it’s very significant in that U.S. has been really on a collision course with Iran ever since the axis of evil speech. And the collisions, in a way, been delayed because of the quagmire in Iraq, but this election in Tehran is going to basically put the collision course — back on course. The elected president is really not interested in giving priority to relations with either Europe or United States. He is much more of a nationalist. He’s very committed to a strong Iran, protecting Iran’s interests around its borders. He’s very committed to nuclear energy, not necessarily nuclear bombs, but nuclear energy. All of these are going to basically heat up the tensions with United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Rumsfeld saying this is a completely illegitimate election, 1,000 people were disqualified?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, statements like that actually helped the conservatives get elected. One of the main conservative ministers actually thanked Bush for his disparaging comments about the elections, and I suspect in the second round, a lot of people came out, voted in order to actually protest Bush’s and the administration’s disparaging statements. After all, no elections are absolutely free in that everyone can run, but there were six candidates running, which last time I looked at the American elections is at least four more than we usually get. So there was a choice for the electorate, so to dismiss it as a sham for Iranians it’s not just comes out of ignorance, but it’s a very sort of imperialistic disparaging comment on the Iranian system. And I think most Iranian patriots would have really been pissed off at what Washington was saying.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon, you’ve just recently returned from Tehran. You interviewed Rafsanjani, the candidate who lost for president. Were you surprised by the results?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I was, and actually, I think what we just heard about class really is in sync with what I saw on the ground. For instance, on election day of the first round, I went to southern Tehran to a very poor precinct, went and interviewed people voting. And they talked, much to my surprise, about how they were going to vote for the mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad. They did not sound very enthusiastic at all about Rafsanjani, who is notorious for cronyism and so forth. It’s very notable that Rumsfeld has been talking about how all the other people were told they couldn’t run, where in fact I was in a stadium with 10,000 people a couple of weeks ago in Tehran, cheering for Mustafa Moin, a Reform candidate. The chants were, "Political prisoners must be free." Moin talked about the need to end patriarchy, if you can imagine, end patriarchy in Iran, which would be a somewhat radical statement even in a lot of the United States. Explicit calls for human rights, for women’s rights, so I think there was a meaningful election. Unfortunately, some of the most regressive, I think, we would call right wing theocratic forces were able to triumph with the winner.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, you were in Tehran for the major women’s protest, perhaps the most significant in decades.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah. I found it very moving, more than 100 women sitting down in front of the University of Tehran. I think they felt that the election and the presidency of Mr. Khatami for eight years had opened up a bit space. And I think it’s very misleading for U.S. government officials to say that this election was meaningless or that the presidency is meaningless. In point of fact, that space was crucial for human rights activists of whom I interviewed many.

Now we’re in a situation where unfortunately somebody who has risen to power, carried forward by the Basijis and other vigilantes and people who are opposed to loosening of repression on women and political dissidents, and so forth. We’re, I think, in a very dire situation in terms of human rights there, and also, as we just heard, and I think it’s quite correct, this is a dream come true, these election results, for Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush and Rove, because they see now a wonderful foil. I suspect they were worried about Rafsanjani’s statements in recent weeks about wanting to be open to the U.S. for rapprochement. This is really a dream come true for the neo-cons.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran in the near future, Professor Abrahamian?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Yes. I think that the neo-cons have made it no secret for years that they want to deal with Iran. And they clearly — one idea was somehow the public was — they’re going to become American-loving and all love-dovey with United States and give up the nuclear program, and so on. That’s obviously been shattered. And there’s, I think, — they already have basically blueprints about military strikes for the nuclear installations. They also have plans, what they call elite decapitation, which would be surgical strikes at ministries of the top people. And that would be basically a sort of slippery slope they would start on. They would think that doing that that would prevent Iran developing the nuclear program, not taking into account that Iran also has its own cards it could play. If that was done, if any military action was implemented, I think that the Iranians would use the cards they have, which is in Afghanistan and Iraq, both areas, they have actually great advantages. They could unravel the already bad position the United States is in those countries, completely unravel it. All they have to do is give the green light to Sadr in southern Iraq to have a Shia revolt. He has been itching to do that with a lot of help from his friends from across the border in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Who?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Sadr. Sadr. That you would have a Shia revolt in the south on top of a Sunni revolt. And that would completely undermine the U.S. position there. In Afghanistan, there is actually one of the old warlords who was against the Taliban, Hekmatyar, who the Iranians tried to encourage to support and work with the Karzai administration, but he refused to do that and went on his own into the mountains. And he would be quite eager to get Iranian help, if the Iranians decided to change policy in Iraq. It’s often forgotten here that Iran has actually done everything it can so far to help United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And if there’s a confrontation, military confrontation, there would be no reason for them to cooperate with United States. They would do exactly what would be in their interests, which would be to destroy the U.S. position in those two countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Ervand Abrahamian, Professor of Iranian History at Baruch College here in New York, author of Inventing the Axis of Evil, among other books, and Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy, author of War Made Easy, we want to thank you both for being with us.

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