Stunning victory

The victory of the hardliner Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad in the Iranian polls for presidency has shocked the Western world, particularly the Bush administration. Ahmadinejad, known for his anti-Western ultra-conservative ethos, will become the first non-cleric to hold Iran’s presidency since 1981. Surprisingly, he secured 61.6 per cent of the votes over his rival, a pragmatic conservative, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. A former two-term president, Rafsanjani had proclaimed himself as being open to restoring relations with the US and continuation of social reforms. His defeat, experts argue, will set the Islamic republic on a “collision course” with the West since Ahmadinejad is sure to be a tough negotiating partner in talks over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. In his very first public statement after the victory, Ahmadinejad said he would seek to create a “powerful and Islamic model” for the world. In other words, he will advocate for a return to the moral “purity” of the early years of the Islamic revolution while in power. The election results are an indication of the end of any moderating influence in Iran, and along with it all the US neo-conservatives’ hope of turning Iran into a reformed democratic state.

The triumph of a self-proclaimed fundamentalist in Iran sends a powerful message to the West. It indicates a public reaction to the overbearing attitudes of the western countries in the Middle East. It is also a response to the illusory roles many stakeholding nations play in the region in the name of democracy and liberal values, whereas their actual interest is guided by the “oil politics.” It would be better for the West to realise that transplanted values seldom work in conservative societies. Although President Bush has put Iran within his prescribed “axis of evil” nations, it is a Herculean task to win over an Islamic society engraved in age-old beliefs that too with an ultra-conservative president now in office. Iraq experience itself should have been a convincing hint for the US that it is not so easy to transform a society and make it follow a western-style democratic model. In fact, the poll result in Iran, in a way, is a public outcry against certain developments in West Asia, including the recent happenings in Iraq. If the West does not act wisely, Ahmadinejad’s views may bring fresh tremors in Iran’s already shaky ties with the West.