McClatchy-Tribune News Service
By Ali Safavi

Now here’s a scenario for a perfect election: Iran’s turbaned tyrant, or the “Supreme Leader,” has to replace the incumbent president, who is term-limited and is fighting for a bigger portion of wealth and power. So candidates line up to run. But some of those candidates are not favored by the Supreme Leader because they, too, are asking for a bigger piece of the pie.

What does the tyrant (oops, Supreme Leader) do in such a case? Well, he orders his flunkies, otherwise known as the Guardian Council, which determines who can and cannot run, to disqualify the candidates he doesn’t approve of. In the end, what seems at first like a competitive election becomes a non-election, since the only candidates are those who either can’t win or are favored by the dictator.

That is the situation today in Iran, where a sham presidential election is scheduled for June 14.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose bellicosity has drawn the ire of the world community, can’t run again. Among the possible contenders were former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who incidentally helped Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ascend to his current position, and Ahmadinejad’s protege Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

While these two purport to be “reformers,” in fact the only real reformers in Iran are either in the cemetery, in jail, in the streets demanding regime change. Other real reformers are in exile.

Still, a weakened Khamenei felt threatened by even loyal regime officials like Rafsanjani and Mashaei, which is why he had the Guardian Council rule them ineligible for the ballot. That decision has been so contentious even among the inner circle that it has been denounced by the likes of the daughter of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini.

It’s no wonder that the Iranians – inside and out of the country – see no purpose in voting. They actually seek the overthrow of the regime in its entirety. Dictators thrive on rubber-stamp elections, which they can tout as public support for their policies. But a small turnout, which will be evident even if the despotic leaders claim otherwise, will be yet another testament to this regime’s illegitimacy.

Khamenei is drawing his inner circle ever tighter, because he is feeble and vulnerable. Whatever the outcome of the election, he will grow weaker and his regime will be more fragmented, isolated and strategically deadlocked. As such, nuclear negotiations will go nowhere, which is just what the mullahs want anyway, and Tehran’s meddling in the region, first and foremost in Syria, will continue unabatedly. This creates an opportunity for the West to see the regime for what it is and to step up pressure, instead of looking for invisible “moderates,” or continue to wait for a change in the mullahs’ behavior.

Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has alluded to the fact that the regime’s election is illegitimate. Last month, he told reporters at the State Department, “I do not have high expectations that the election is going to change the fundamental calculus of Iran.” But, actions speak louder than words. The U.S. policy so far has been enabling the regime to carry out its sham elections, and to pursue its quest for nuclear weapons, while suppressing the Iranian people.

The best way to change this ineffectual policy is to look outside the regime and reach out to the Iranian people and their organized opposition.

While the regime is rotting from within, support for the organized Resistance headed by the Iranian opposition leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, is gaining momentum. In the streets of Tehran and other cities, calls for regime change are becoming more evident than ever. Banners and graffiti in streets of Tehran and other major cities call for regime change: “My vote is overthrow,” they say.

At the same time, the Iranian regime’s security forces reveal their trepidation about the activities of supporters of the principal opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). On May 24, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that a number of MEK members, “whose mission was to disrupt the elections,” were identified and arrested.

A week after the sham election in Iran tens of thousands will gather on June 22, in Paris to hear from leading political and governmental personalities from around the world who endorse their cause.

It is evident that the tide is turning, and the mullahs have reached a dead-end. Those who want a secular, democratic, nuclear-free republic in Iran are gathering strength. And no mock election with its result preordained is going to slow this train. As the signals emerge from Tehran is anyone in the West taking note?

Ali Safavi is the spokesman in the United States for the Representative Office of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, the principal opposition coalition to the ruling theocracy in Iran. He wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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