Ayatollah Khamenei loyalists win Iran elections

2008 AFP

Ayatollah Khamenei loyalists win Iran elections


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Loyalists of Iran's Clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won three quarters of seats in the national parliament, strengthening religious leader's political influence at the expense of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose supporters – including his sister, Parvin – suffered major loses.

Ahmadinejad, who has recently challenged the supreme authority of Khamenei in the hierarchy of the Islamic Republic is reduced to a lame duck in a country where religious power is far greater than political. He will remain president without any real power until the end of this mandate in 2013. Success of Khamenei's followers in these elections will give the Ayatollah grave influence in presidential election.

Aside from sweeping the general election, Khamenei's loyalists won over Ahmadinejad's supporters in local elections, too, winning majority in capital Tehran, where current president used to serve as a mayor. They also won in the Shia Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad and in Ahmadinejad's strongholds such as Isfahan and Tabriz, where president won more than 90% in the 2009 election.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad went together in the 2008 legislative elections and won some 70% of seats. However, recent rift between two political heavyweights resulted in Ahmadinejad's defeat, reconfirming that mullahs and Ayatollah are the true source of power in Iran.

Ahmadinejad will probably undergo an unprecedented public hearing in the outgoing parliament this week to justify his handling of the economy. Parliament could theoretically impeach the President, but in the current climate of tensions between Iran and the West, it is unlikely that Khamenei would risk major political turmoil.

The two main opposition leaders, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who have been under house arrest for more than a year could not take part in the electoral process.

Foreign affairs implications of the vote would remain limited, as foreign policy was always practically in the hands of Ayatollah. However, Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for the third term as president, might further toughen his rhetoric, especially towards Israel.

Israel has already warned that it might use pre-emptive strike to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear energy, following many calls from Ahmadinejad for annihilation of Israelis. Even the US President Barack Obama has said that military action was among the options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that US would not hesitate to use military force.

The issue of Iran will certainly dominate the agenda on 5 March when Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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