Monday, December 18, 2006

Meanwhile, in Iran....

Continuing to focus on the Middle East, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supporters lost a lot of ground in local elections, with reformists and other opponents gaining a majority of seats.

Compounding his setback was the success of Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential pragmatist and fierce critic of the president's radical policies. Mr Rafsanjani - whom Mr Ahmadinejad defeated in last year's presidential election - received the most votes in elections to the experts' assembly, a clerical body empowered to appoint and remove Iran's supreme leader. By contrast, Ayatollah Mohammed-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, Mr Ahmadinejad's presumed spiritual mentor, came sixth.

Analysts attributed Mr Rafsanjani's resurgence to his newly-found status as a saviour of the reformists, the liberal movement that shunned him as a hated symbol of the establishment when it held power. Mr Rafsanjani has been increasingly identified with reformers since last year's presidential election and many voters turned to him to voice anger at Mr Ahmadinejad.

This is especially interesting given that Iran is a limited democracy at best, with meaningful elections only at the local level, and thousands of opposition candidates routinely banned from running.

It'll be interesting to see if Ahmadinejad moderates his behavior in response -- and if he survives the next presidential vote.

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