Election strengthens Iran’s civil society

December 16, 2006 - 0:0
TEHRAN -- On Friday, Iranians went to the polls to elect members of the Assembly of Experts -- the body that appoints and supervises the supreme leader -- and members of municipal councils. In some constituencies, the people also voted in Majlis by-elections.

The turnout in some cities was so high that there was a shortage of ballots. State television showed long queues of voters at some polling stations in different parts of the country, including the capital Tehran.

The election marked another chapter in efforts to institutionalize democracy in Iran, which is considered the most democratic state in the Middle East. Officials encouraged people to vote saying, “Whatever comes out of the ballot boxes is welcome and should be respected by all.”

The electorate chose between approximately 233,000 candidates for more than 113,000 city and village council seats.

Some commentators described the election as a rivalry between reformists inspired by former president Mohammad Khatami and conservatives allied with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Other analysts said the election would reinforce the Islamic Republic’s justified nuclear position.

In Tehran, the main contest in the city council election was between fundamentalists and reformists. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was first elected as a city councilor in 2003 and then elected mayor by the Tehran City Council. Now many see the post of Tehran mayor as a stepping stone to the presidency.

The conservatives were campaigning in two groups: the Great Coalition of Fundamentalists (GCF), led by current Tehran City Council (TCC) Chairman Mahdi Chamran, and the Pleasant Fragrance of Service coalition led by Mehrdad Bazrpash, who resigned as a presidential advisor to run for city councilor, and former cabinet secretary Masud Zaribafan, who also recently resigned from his government post. The Pleasant Fragrance of Service coalition members are regarded as Ahmadinejad loyalists.

The reformists are led by former Management and Planning Organization (MPO) director Ali Najafi, former culture minister Ahmad Masjed-Jame’i, and former vice president Masumeh Ebtakar.

“The Iranian people perform their religious, national, and revolutionary duties very well by participating in elections,” Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said as he cast his ballot shortly after the poll opened.

“The Iranian nation deeply believes that their presence on the stage of elections is synonymous with determining the society’s destiny. Thus, they perform this duty very well,” Ayatollah Khamenei stated.

The second by-elections of the seventh Majlis were held in the three constituencies of Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, and Eslamshahr; Bam; and Ahvaz.

The Leader said that participation in elections is like saying prayers, which should be done as soon as possible.

“The earlier you do it, the more virtue there is in it,” he added.

Ahmadinejad called for a massive turnout at his local polling station.

“Today is the day of Iranians’ awakening and glory,” he told reporters after casting his ballot in eastern Tehran, where he resided before being elected president. “Iranians are very intelligent and have always disappointed their enemies.”

Former president Mohammad Khatami said that the Islamic Revolution brought about several blessings, the most important of which being that it prepared the ground for people to decide their own destiny.

He also underlined the importance of materializing the two major factors of the “people’s participation” and “holding sound elections”.

“Iranians have chosen the path of democracy. We cannot move forward on this path without the people’s participation," Khatami said.

Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said that the people’s “glorious participation” in the elections is a source of hope for the ruling system and a disappointment for all enemies.

If elections are held in a proper manner, “all of us will be the winners, no matter who is elected,” he added.

Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said that each vote cast by the Iranian nation is a ‘no’ to the United States.

Through their participation in the elections, the people renew their allegiance to Islam, the Islamic Revolution, and the leadership and show their animosity toward the powers that wish to rule over other states under the pretext of freedom and democracy, he told reporters.

Voting was extended by three hours to 10:00 p.m. local time because people were still waiting to vote, the Interior Ministry announced.

Polling stations had been scheduled to close at 7.00 p.m.