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Iran Presidential Election Looms


This year's 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution falls midway between two pivotal elections the U.S. presidential vote last November and the upcoming Iranian presidential polls in June.

As the upcoming elections in Iran grow closer, the world is watching to see if a more positive relationship between Iran and the United States develop.

On the surface, Iran has all the trappings of a democratic state.

There are elections, a functioning parliament, and a chief executive in the form of a president.

But as Middle East analyst Alex Vatanka of Jane's Information Group points out, appearances can be deceiving. "Let's be frank about it. Iran is far more democratic than most of its Arab neighbors in the Middle East," Vatanka said. "I mean, it does have elections that do to some extent count. But they're not free and fair. And they're not democratic. If you take a hard look, this is the regime telling its people, 'we will let you know which candidates we would want you to vote for.'"

True power rests in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.

He is only the second person to hold the job.

The first was the father of Islamic Iran, Ayatollah Khomenei.

Power also resides with some 50 people who sit on bodies like the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council.

Parliament can criticize the president, and has done so, especially over economic policies. But it tends to stay out of sensitive matters like the nuclear program, and
relations with the United States.

The paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps emerged as a power center after the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, best known in the West for his fiery rhetoric, is an ex-Revolutionary Guard member and war veteran who owes much of his political support to his former comrades. But how much authority he or any president has in policy matters is not clear.

Analysts say the economy is expected to be the top election issue in June. Oil revenues have slumped, and inflation was more than 25 per cent last year.

Reva Bhalla is an Iran analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor. She says subsidies that allow consumers to get cheap gasoline are politically popular but very costly. "It's becoming a lot harder for Iran to sustain itself, and, most importantly, sustain the subsidies so we're going to see a freezing up of those subsidies," she said. "You know we've seen a lot of backlash against the president that I'm sure is going to come to light in these next elections."

Iranian voters might have a stark choice from both sides of the spectrum if the reformist former president Mohammad Khatemi decides to challenge the hardline conservative President Ahmadinejad.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, another former president, may also mount a bid to reclaim the office.

US President Barack Obama has indicated a willingness to talk directly with Iran if the circumstances are right.

The Revolutionary Guards will likely have a say in both the election and any future U.S.-Iranian dialogue, says Reva Bhalla. "One thing to remember, though, is regardless of which faction comes out on top, the I.R.G.C. (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) is still a very big player in this," Bhalla said. "And that belongs more to the hardline conservative faction inside Iran."

But 30 years of suspicion and hostility cannot be erased immediately by elections in both the US and Iran.

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