Dark horse in Iran

THE stunning victory of Teheran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Iran run-off shows how incredibly wrong the world has been in judging the change in Iran. Ahmadinejad was not even expected to make it to the re-election on Friday.

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Published: Sun 26 Jun 2005, 10:37 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:46 PM

However, he managed to pull off a surprising second-place finish in last week’s election, pitting him against the front-runner Rafsanjani. How the dark horse turned the tables on his more experienced opponent is an amazing tale of realpolitik and sheer grit. Ahmadinejad’s image of a humble and honest public official also might have contributed to his landslide victory.

Evidently, we in the media, particularly our friends in the West, never saw the big picture emerging in Iran. All along the Western media favoured the former president and the so-called moderate Rafsanjani seeing his victory as a foregone conclusion.

The margin of Ahmadinejad’s victory (61.6 per cent of vote against Rafsanjani’s 35.9 per cent) underscores the fact that the emergence of former Teheran mayor as the favourite for the top job was no fluke. Signs of change had been there all along. Only we failed to notice them.

What will be Iran like under the new leader who has been routinely described as a "hardliner" by Western media? Ahmadinejad’s pre-election call reiterating his commitment to the ideals of Islamic Revolution is being held against him.

However, his post-victory speech yesterday could more accurately suggest the shape of things to come. In his taped statement broadcast yesterday, the new leader of Iran has talked of creating a "modern, advanced and Islamic" role model for the world in an attempt to ease the apprehensions about the fate of ongoing political reforms and liberalisation.

How serious Ahmadinejad is in his commitment to the ideal of a "modern, advanced and Islamic" Iran will become clear in the days and months to come. However, no leader of Iran can afford to ignore the popular resolve and desire for change and reforms.

For all his faults, the outgoing president Mohammad Khatami deserves the credit for generating a new awakening in his people —majority of them young, and born after the 1979 revolution — and making it impossible for his successor to arrest the momentum of reforms. Perhaps that is why Rafsanjani, the defeated presidential candidate, promised to improve relations with the West (read US) and step up reforms.

The new leader of Iran would ignore this craving for change in his people at his own peril. The post-Revolution generation cannot be sustained forever on the diet of anti-West rhetoric. They want to see real and meaningful political and economic reforms that can make a difference to them. To do this, Ahmadinejad does not have to break free from his Islamic moorings. Is that asking too much?

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