Stolen election?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won himself a second term in office as Iran’s President with a stunning 62 per cent mandate. Supporters of his closest rival, the reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, have alleged the vote was manipulated to ensure Ahmadinejad’s victory.

Thousands of Iranians are out on the streets protesting the result. Violent clashes have broken out in Teheran and other cities. The unrest has been described as the worst, Iran has witnessed in over a decade. Ahmadinejad’s dwindling popularity especially in cities has been evident for some time now. People were fed up with his incompetence in economic matters and his confrontationist foreign policy. Rising prices, unemployment and lack of civil liberties were expected to cost Ahmadinejad dearly in the polls. It did seem that the pragmatic, moderate-conservative Mousavi would gain from this. If the mood among urban Iranians was any indication, Mousavi seemed likely to win. But it was evident during the election campaign that Ahmadinejad and the conservatives in the Iranian establishment would not allow the voters alone to determine the outcome.

Government machinery was blatantly misused during the campaign to boost Ahmadinejad’s chances. To those hoping to bring change through the ballot box Ahmadinejad’s return as President is hugely disappointing.

There is concern in Iran that Ahmadinejad will use the ongoing unrest to crush dissent and all opposition to his rule. On the foreign front, he is expected to maintain his tough posture with the West on the issue of uranium enrichment, especially if opposition to his re-election persists. He could use confrontation as a means of rallying domestic support.

However, there is the possibility that he might see wisdom in compromise especially since this is his last term. There are signs that US President Barack Obama is keen to build a new relationship with Iran.

Ahmadinejad’s first term as president was a disaster at home and abroad. Now, he must take steps to improve human rights at home. He must adopt a conciliatory tone with the international community and be willing to reach compromise on the nuclear issue. It is in Iran’s interest. It will ease economic sanctions, improving the health of the Iranian economy.

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