In Iran, change may yet come

By Meir Javedanfar, June 4, 2009

Next Friday, Iranians will vote in their country’s 10th presidential elections.

Two issues will dominate. First and foremost the economy, followed closely by Iran’s relations with the outside world.

Since becoming president, Mr Ahmadinejad has spent billions of dollars of Iran’s oil income on cash handouts to the poor and infrastructure projects. Although these have helped develop parts of Iran’s rural areas, inflation has doubled from 12 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, due to improper planning, unemployment has increased from 14 per cent to more than 25 per cent.

Many experts believe that the damage caused to the economy under Mr Ahmadinejad is far greater than what Iran has gained. However, some of the poor have only his handouts, and they want more. If they had no money in the first place, inflation was not a concern. It is a question of who turns up to vote in higher numbers: them, or Iran’s city dwellers who have suffered more from Mr Ahmadinejad’s economic programmes.

Foreign policy concerns are also an important election issue and this year they will come a close second to the economy. Many people in Iran, especially those living in the urban areas, are horrified by Mr Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, his calling for Israel’s elimination and openly rebuffing Obama by stating that the nuclear programme will not be part of the negotiations with the US. Not only have his remarks made it easier for the West to impose sanctions on their country, it is now much more difficult for Iranians to receive visas to travel abroad.

Should those who oppose Mr Ahmadinejad’s domestic and foreign policy succeed, we could see an end to calls for the elimination of Israel, and denial of the Holocaust. This is because all other candidates have called for improving relations with the West. All have promised confidence building measures.

What happens to the nuclear programme and support for insurgents in Iraq — or Hamas and Hizbollah — is a decision for Supreme Leader Khamenei and not the president, whoever he may be. However, if Mr Ahmadinejad loses, Ayatollah Khamenei could find that voices calling for compromise are simply too difficult to ignore.

Meir Javedanfar is co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010