In the Arena

Going Away

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I’m heading overseas for several weeks, into areas where blogging may not be possible or advisable. I’ll try to let you know where I am, and what I’m doing, when I get there. Meanwhile, Marty Peretz, the owner of The New Republic, offers his daily pearl, this time on the June 12 Iranian elections:

Anyway, it looks like Ahmadinejad will be re-elected, perhaps by a larger margin than last time.

He must be extremely well informed. Most American officials I talk to think that while Ahmadinejad has to be considered the favorite, it will be difficult for him to win a true majority, in which case the election will be forced into a second round on June 19. (Several Iranians I’ve spoken with, including government officials, believe a second round is likely.) If the election does goes to a runoff, the incumbent president’s chances diminish and those of his challenger–most likely, the reformer Mir-Houssein Mousavi–increase, since the other two main candidates are not like to support Ahmadinejad.

It should be noted that no one–not Iranians, and certainly not westerners–is very good at predicting Iranian elections. Four years ago, Ahmadinejad was barely mentioned in the pre-election horse race reports. The favorite was said to be Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the ultimate Iranian establishment insider. He was ultimately clobbered by Ahmadinejad, who was perceived to be a man of the people, in the second round. The landslide victory of Mohammed Khatami in 1997 was completely unexpected (although his reelection was not a surprise). It might be argued that the conservative forces, especially the religious police (the Basij) who guard the polling stations, have had their thumbs on the scales since the Khatami election, but the current election seems very much a tossup at the moment. 

Once again, Iranian foreign policy–and therefore decisions about how and when to engage the United States–is determined by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, but a strong reformist vote may have some influence on Khamenei’s future policies. The Supreme Leader has been fairly opaque about whom he favors in the current election–he gave what appeared to be a pro-Ahmadinejad speech in Mashad recently, but he also publicly rebuked Ahmadinejad a few weeks earlier. He is a distant relative of the reform candidate, Mousavi, which may mean something. He was also a rival of Mousavi’s during the Khomeini era, which may mean more. 

The current polls–historically unreliable–give Mousavi a slight lead.