Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ahmadinejad's Base

I agree that the accusations being made by Ahmadinejad associate Abbas Palizdar are part of a larger battle between the president and mainline Iranian conservatives, but think WINEP's Mehid Khalaji is off base here:
"The widespread speculation that Palizdar's speeches were part of an effort by Ahmadinezhad to counter critics of his domestic -- especially economic -- and foreign policies seems to have merit. From this viewpoint, the president's current political goal is to position himself for reelection in May 2009. Since his economic program is exacerbating the problems (e.g., raging inflation) that are the source of so much popular discontent, he may be looking for a way to change the public discourse. Accordingly, he has drawn public attention away from the economic situation by emphasizing financial corruption, blaming "hidden hands" and "mafias" that prevent him from succeeding. He may also be trying to regain lost political ground by showing that he is doing something tangible to fulfill his campaign promise to fight corruption. On June 10, Ahmadinezhad posted a long article on his blog attacking the clerics who criticized him for his political demagoguery and religious pretensions, stating that the judicial system supposed to fight corruption denies that corruption even exists in the country.

"But this approach could carry a high cost because Ahmadinezhad lacks a social base to challenge the clerics. Since most Iranians who voted for Ahmadinezhad were motivated in no small part by conservative religious views, his apparent strategy of accusing respected clerics -- whom the people trust more than the president -- of corruption is a risky gamble to regain popularity. Although the clerics have lost a significant amount of popularity since the revolution, they have gained significant political power, and the regime's legitimacy is based on religious credentials. Moreover, ultimate power still resides with the head of the clerical establishment, Ayatollah Khamenei."

Does the average Iranian really trust members of the state clerical establishment more than they do Ahmadiinejad? I was under the impression that corruption was a national joke, and that the current president won against Rafsanjani in 2005 largely over that issue. Ahmadinejad is tied to the Abadgaran religious group, but that seems to have been an organizational edge rather than an electoral base. We also shouldn't rule out the possibility that Ayatollah Khamene'i is using Ahmadinejad to keep the clerical establishment in line.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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