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Iran: parliamentary elections under the umbrella of UN sanctions

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - March 14 is election day for the Iranian parliament. Following the UN Security Council resolution on tougher sanctions against Iran passed in early March, the elections will become the second significant event this month (chronologically) for the country.

Moreover, the sanctions and elections have proven closely connected. It seems that the resolution dealt such a telling blow to the reputation of Ahmadinejad's nuclear doctrine, that his camp of like-minded top clergy view the fact as all but an act of election subversion on the part of the Security Council.

With Ahmadinejad as Iran's current president, the Iranian nuclear program, instead of uniting the country's political elite and civic society, catalyzed their diversification. But Ahmadinejad, who in his three years as president, let the achievements of his predecessors (Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami) in domestic and foreign policy go to waste, is now clutching at the nuclear program as a last resort.

Having made the nuclear program, although mostly in words, a national priority and a matter of national prestige, Ahmadinejad is now drumming up public support for that priority against the schemings of outside "ill-wishers," the chief among which, he says, is the UN Security Council.

His moves follow a well-established pattern: any Security Council resolution on Iran containing sanctions is dangled before the nation as evidence of another success scored by the program. Logic in such cases is simple and understandable: the tougher the sanctions, the greater the victory.

Resolution 1803, the latest in the series, is no exception. Moreover, it has proved singularly ill-timed for the Iranian president. This is because apart from "outside" opponents, Ahmadinejad and his team of "neo-conservatives" advocating the clerical regime have enough opponents inside the country. They are above all reformists and moderate conservatives insisting on a more liberal economy and a more liberal political system.

They are far more dangerous than the overseas opponents, mainly because the target of their fierce criticism is Ahmadinejad's nuclear program and his foreign policy strategy.

This is why the third UN Security Council resolution with sanctions against Iran's nuclear program could substantially sway the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections. And this is despite the fact that Ahmadinejad, openly backed by Iran's spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, seems to have done everything for the neo-conservatives to win the elections.

Otherwise, Ahmadinejad will have to say goodbye to his presidential ambitions in the 2009 presidential election. Especially when combined with the presidential party's crushing defeat at recent elections to Iran's Council of Experts, when he lost to his main rival, Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The election campaign between the two main political camps - the neo-conservatives (led by incumbent President Ahmadinejad and his team) and the reformists (led by former president Mohammad Hatami) was unprecedentedly bitter this time. Eighty percent of the reformist candidates failed to gain approval from the Supervisory Council.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad attempted to remove a number of influential moderate figures, including, Ali Larijani, a former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, from the united list of his conservatives.

But despite all this, it is clear that Iran is forming or could form a bloc of political opponents to the incumbent president. Experts believe that Hatami, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Larijani are part of this bloc. It is also likely that Hassan Rohani, another former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani's forerunner, would also be included. At a scientific conference in Tehran on Iran's foreign policy at the end of February, Rohani sharply criticized Ahmadinejad's nuclear doctrine and his foreign policy strategy, accusing the president of making populist declarations instead of taking concrete steps.

How will the situation develop? It all depends on whether the president's political opponents will move to form an opposition in parliament and whether they have the possibility to do so. For it must be repeated that even before the election campaign kicked off, the Supervisory Council rejected practically all the main reformist candidates, as well as those from independent political organizations and moderate conservatives.

It appears that following UN Security Council Resolution 1803, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stepped up his pressure on the opponents of his protege Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That is to say, the sanctions by the UN Security Council against the Iranian nuclear program have turned into the regime's sanctions against its political rivals.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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