One winner has already been declared in the Iranian elections: The Internet, used by more than 23 million Iranians, or 34 percent of the population. But that figure alone cannot be used to determine which of the four candidates will win. At the very most, one can assume most Web users will vote for reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mohsen Rezeai.
Although the presidential race is based mostly on the individual skills of the candidates, their agendas and public record are no less important. The candidates have almost insignificant differences on issues of core interest to the West and Israel. All of the candidates have said they are willing to hold a dialogue with the U.S., but say it would be gradual and depend on U.S. policy. Even Ahmadinejad has expressed his willingness to talk to the U.S.
This does not mean the Islamic Republic would be willing to talk with Israel, which all candidates agree is responsible for the conflict in the Middle East. But only Ahmadinejad has denied Israel's right to exist and the Holocaust.
There is a consensus in Iran regarding the right to seek nuclear technology for peaceful use. U.S. President Barack Obama's recognition that Iran has the right to develop a nuclear program for peaceful ends may create support for Ahmadinejad, who is considered a nuclear crusader who has bent Washington's will.
Iranian foreign relations are dictated by supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has given U.S. overtures a cold shoulder so far. But the Iranian president can, at least on the surface, set the tone of the relationship, which is why the elections are important. Iran is not expected to change its ambitions to expand its influence in the Middle East and Central Asia, regardless of who wins. Its ties with Syria will not cool, its influence in Iraq will not diminish and its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and countries like Sudan and Algeria will deepen. What might change is its perception. If Mousavi or Karroubi are elected, Tehran's rhetoric will tone down. A reformist president will make it easier for Obama to justify his new policy toward Iraq. But ties between the U.S. and Iran may improve even if Ahmadinejad is reelected.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now