ANALYSIS: U.S. to face a bolder, more confident Ahmadinejad
Landslide election victory gives Iranian president sweeping momentum going into his second term.
According to reports emerging from Iran's election supervisory agencies, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad garnered at least twice the number of votes compared to that of his main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Even when factoring in the number of forgeries, irregularities, disturbances, and threats against voters, this statistic is testament not only to the potency of the conservative camp but also the political acumen of Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad's landslide victory (barring any surprises in the counting of the remaining votes) is not expected to change Iran's policy vis-a-vis its nuclear program nor will it impact Tehran's developing ties with the United States.
On these two matters, final say is not in the hands of the president but rather the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Even Iran's support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria is determined by numerous figures, among which Ahmadinejad is just one among equals.
Nonetheless, the U.S. - which took great pains in not declaring its support for any of the candidates and even declared its intention to hold a dialogue with Iran prior to the elections - is now likely to face a more rigid, self-confident Iranian interlocutor, a leader who feels no need to rally public opinion to his side given the fact that he is legally unable to run for a third term as president in Iran.
The question that must be addressed now is to what extent can the Obama administration begin a direct dialogue with Khamenei, who once against demonstrated his ability to impact the election results.
The election outcome thus serves an important role in understanding the political and ideological processes that are unfolding in Iran and the scope of their potential influences on the decision-making process. The conservatives could have opted to vote for another candidate, Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
Yet, their preference for Ahmadinejad indicates that the conservative establishment, the apparatuses which sustain its hold on power, and particularly Supreme Leader Khamenei himself - all of whom were not enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad - viewed his rival Mousavi as not just any reformist, but one who threatens the regime's very system of rule.
As such, they rallied around Ahmadinejad out of concern that Rezai would not be able to muster a challenge against Mousavi. In addition, they wanted to avert a second round of elections in which they envisioned Mousavi winning a majority of votes.
On the other hand, Mousavi's impressive showing and his success in forming a full-fledged political movement in a relatively short time frame publicly highlighted the depth of the chasm between the reformists and the conservatives, a chasm that the Supreme Leader will need to take into account while enacting policy.
Aside from the political considerations and the support from the conservative establishment, Ahmadinejad's oratory skills proved superior to those of Mousavi and reformist Mehdi Karrubi during the candidates' televised debates.
His command of populist demagoguery, the fact that he sprung up from one of Tehran's hard-scrabble neighborhoods, the fact that he does not belong to one of the more affluent families, and his unbridled money handouts on the eve of the vote - all these factors contributed to his victory. Yet it also appears that his foreign policy also lent great weight to the final result.
Ahmadinejad claimed credit for bending the will of the West, forcing the U.S. into a dialogue with the Islamic regime, and elevating his country to the status of a global power. His rivals could not boast of a similar record, thus enabling the leader to preserve the Iranian "tradition" in which the president stay in officer for two consecutive terms.
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