I don’t like writing that, since I wish that I could share in Ignatius’s optimism, but he neglects to mention two things about the upcoming presidential election that undercut his claim that democracy in the country is on the march. The first is the not-inconsiderable chance that fraud may be perpetuated in order to bring about an Ahmadinejad re-election. Fraud should not surprise us; after all, fraud is regularly perpetuated in Iranian elections by hardliners who prevent reformist candidates from running for political office solely and exclusively because they don’t want those reformists to pose a threat to the power of hardliners. The hardliners learned their lesson well when Mohammad Khatami–weak and ineffectual as he was–won two terms as the reformist president of Iran, and they will continue to do everything in their power to prevent future reformist candidates from posing similar challenges to the fundamentalist bloc.
Not that future candidates–most notably at the presidential level–can really do anything to challenge the fundamentalist bloc so long as the fundamentalist Ali Khamenei remains the Supreme Religious Guide of Iran. The president of Iran is only as strong as the Supreme Religious Guide allows him to be, and if the president wants to be able to make a difference, he had better make sure that his political goals are in line with those of Khamenei’s. Ahmadinejad’s goals are in line with Khamenei’s, which is why the latter has made it clear that he favors Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Even if Mir Hossein Mousavi is elected, the reformist movement will make no headway so long as Khamenei remains in power. Whatever commentary one offers concerning this kind of political system, it cannot possibly be said that “Change we can believe in” is coming to Iran anytime soon.
At least, it cannot be said with a straight face.