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News: International

Iran election vital despite democratic 'farce'

by Lord Maginnis*
The presidential election in Iran may be little more than a farce in democratic terms but it is nevertheless of primary importance for the country, the region and the world

Iran could be undergoing a monumental change in less than three weeks. On June 14 the Islamic Republic is holding an election to choose a new president. While the electorate has shown since 2009, at a cost of many lives, that it is ready for change, the process is farcical window dressing by the autocratic leadership who would have us believe that there is some modicum of democracy within their theocratic dictatorship.

The president in Iran has been subservient to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Candidates must first be approved by a group of ayatollahs who make up the Council of Guardians, all of whom have been hand-picked by Khamenei. Only the most conformist candidates are approved.

However, farce or otherwise, the coming elections are of primary importance to the future of Iran, of the region and of the world. While most Iranians today are cognizant of the fact that the people will have little real influence at the polls, the mullahs can no longer continue to fool the people. Try as they may, the ayatollahs still remain unable to control the independent will of the people of Iran.

Iran's supreme leader, despite his ruthless regime, has to juggle with strained and complex regional relationships – with his Arab neighbours, in his support of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, and particularly through his unholy alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tehran's only ally in the region. On the home front he has to grapple with a shattered economy and sky-rocketing prices for the most basic domestic requirements. Khamenei must recognise the distinct possibility of a repetition of the riots that accompanied the last election in 2009. His tactic is clearly to 'elect' one of his confidants as president. But, as he imposes his will, the regime must inevitably face an internal schism leading to more purges of opponents and an even greater domestic role for the dreaded Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This is why he has resorted to excluding Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the regime's founders and a stalwart since the inception of the theocratic rule, as a candidate in the election masquerade. This purge at the pinnacle of the mullahs' regime will both destabilise the regime's power base and aggravate, as never before, internal tension and discord. The international implications for the entire region are frightening. Khamenei's concern and fear of an uprising is not without reason. He knows well the ever-increasing strength of the resistance; the men and women of Iran who want a very different kind future for their homeland. They seek, and articulate the need for structured regime change and advocate the overthrow of the clerics.

The main thrust of the resistance in spearheaded by the charismatic Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition that includes the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, or PMOI/MEK. Rajavi has clearly advocated a secular, democratic republic with separation of church and state, gender equality and a nuclear-weapon free Iran. It is a message that has been resonating in the ears of Iranians at home and abroad. Despite the sacrifice of ordinary Iranians since the 1979 revolution, with the mullahs having brutally executed some 120,000 MEK activists, the resistance has been reorganising its vast network inside Iran. Sadly, the western allies have, until recently, sought to ignore the need to recognise those who have made the sacrifice and even now, as they scramble to identify resistance groups in Syria they are slow to acknowledge the rights of the NCRI. Let us hope and pray that such indifference by the west does not, one day, have to be paid for by the blood of our young soldiers.

Outside Iran, the resistance is also gaining momentum. Last year some 100,000 Iranians from all over the world gathered in Paris to echo their demands. They were joined by notable personalities from the United States, France, Europe and the Muslim world along with hundreds of parliamentarians and retired senior military figures from the west. This year equally resolute international support is expected, justified by the removal of the main Iranian opposition movement, the MEK, from the US terror list after a 15-year-long legal and political battle. This will again take place in Paris on June 22.

Crucial to Iran and its people and to the region in general will be the developments of the next few weeks and months. Supporting the resistance is the best way to restore democracy and to avoid future confrontations. The west would be unwise to ignore its responsibility to support a resolute, brave and determined community.

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*Lord Ken Maginnis of Drumglass is a member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords and of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom

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