Widening rift

The outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in Iran has widened the rift between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Both are conservative but the Khamenei side is more so. By almost sweeping the election the ayatollah and his loyalists have weakened the presidency and Ahmadinejad will be no better than a caretaker president till his term ends in 2013. He cannot run again for the post, as he has won two terms which are the maximum possible under the law.

Ahmadinejad’s hope that he would be able to get his own nominee elected also will not be fulfilled as the Khomeini loyalists will have a stranglehold over the majlis and the electoral system. It is even speculated the post of president, which has become an alternative power centre, may be abolished and the executive will be headed by a prime minister chosen by the majlis.

The elections were far from free, fair and representative as candidates were carefully handpicked and the process was rigged in many ways. Ahmedinejad in fact got a taste of his own medicine as his group had allegedly rigged the 2009 presidential elections. He had, along with the Khamenei group, also suppressed the popular protests that broke out after the elections. 

These are the first popular elections being held in the country after the controversial presidential elections. Many reformists stayed away from the elections this time and therefore the high voter turnout claimed by the winning side has been questioned. Ahmadinejad has recently been advocating a populist nationalism which is not accepted by the theocratic leadership. Strains in the relations between the president and the supreme leader had come to the fore recently with some of Ahmadinejad’s ministers being dismissed and sent to jail. With the presidency diminished, there is no doubt about where real power lies now.

However, the domination by the Khamenei group is unlikely to lead to any change in the country’s foreign policy  or its stand on nuclear weapons. There is a wide consensus on the nuclear programme within the country. India may have to calibrate its relations more carefully with Teheran now, because the Ahmadinejad group is considered to be more friendly with this country than the Khamenei group. New Delhi needs to maintain good relations with Iran for strategic and economic reasons.

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