Last Friday, the theocrat tyrants ruling Iran held yet another sham election rigged with massive fraud and grossly inflated numbers to claim high turnout. Unofficial estimates from government sources notwithstanding, reports from Iran indicate solid shunning of the election by Iranians and a defeat for the clerical regime. The Financial Times reports that, “Despite spring-like weather and impassioned calls to vote from the country’s leaders, millions of Iranians appear to have failed to turn out for the Islamic republic’s seventh parliamentary elections since the 1979 Islamic revolution.”
The mullahs made a mockery of Friday’s election by disqualifying nearly 2,500 candidates, 80 of them sitting parliament deputies. This was despite the fact that the rejected candidates had declared their allegiance to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in order to be eligible to run in the first place. Khatami’s refusal to protest over the fate of his colleagues, and his promise to work within backdoor channels of power, alienated many in his own camp. This goes to show that the apparent conflicts are not over such fundamental issues as free speech and press, but more a fight over who gets a bigger piece of the pie. The San Francisco Chronicle
quotes a resident of Tehran as saying: “They (reformists) enter parliament on a bicycle and they leave driving Mercedes Benzes.”
When Mohammad Khatami took office in 1997, many in the West were mesmerized by his citing of renowned Western philosophers, and rejoiced over the prospects of reform in Iran. Now, seven years later, there is hardly anyone who would make the case for fundamental change in Iran so long as the clerical establishment is in power.
Unfortunately, millions of Iranians paid the price for that misperception as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests, hanged people in public and stoned victims to death. Some 4,000 students, arrested in June for demonstrating in Tehran and for demanding a referendum for regime change, remain incarcerated. The last seven years of “reform” have meant a rise in prostitution and suicide among the young.
The fact is that the Iranian clerical regime is fundamentally and institutionally incapable of reform; one step back and the whole roof would collapse. Ironically, by founding his Islamic republic, Ayatollah Khomeini sowed within it the seeds of its ultimate demise–the inability to change.
Nevertheless, the biggest political crisis facing the regime in the past quarter-century, has taken the mullahs to the brink. It has also stained the elections with the mark of illegitimacy. The lesson to be learned by Tehran’s European trade partners is that a theocracy that does not tolerate its own parliament deputies is not about to allow any genuine dissent on the part of the public.
Millions of Iranians saw that and boycotted the election farce. The cry in Iran now is for a United Nations-sponsored referendum for regime change. A resolution, initiated by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and adopted unanimously by the U.S. Senate last week, underscores that Friday’s election in Iran was all for show and that “such elections stifle the growth of the genuine democratic forces in Iran.” The Senate resolution demands, “The policy of the United States should be to advocate a genuine democratic government in Iran that will restore freedom to the people of Iran, will abandon terrorism, will protect human rights, and will live in peace and security with the international community.”
The message from Tehran and Washington, D.C. rang loud and clear: No more dancing with Tehran’s mullahs. It is time to work to end the religious dictatorship in Iran, through a referendum for regime change.
–Nasser Rashidi is executive director of the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates.