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Iran elections: The most important ever, says Khamenei

Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei seeks to prove he is firmly in charge in tomorrow's national elections, the first since 2009, when President Ahmadinejad's reelection sparked historic protests. 

By Staff writer / March 1, 2012

Iranians walk in Tehran's main bazaar, one day before Iran's parliamentary elections, on Thursday, March 1. The electoral banner with the photo of Islamic Republic leader Ali Khamenei in Persian reads, "the principles of the election is a divine duty, as it is choosing the right candidate."

Kamran Jebreili/AP

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Iran's Islamic regime is using every tool to convince Iranians to vote tomorrow in parliamentary elections, in what its top leader predicts will "smack the face" of the United States and other "enemies."

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The Friday vote is the first national election since the ill-fated 2009 presidential election, in which widespread irregularities and charges of fraud prompted months of street protests, a violent crackdown on the opposition Green Movement, and a deep crisis of legitimacy.

Opposition leaders long under house arrest have called for a boycott, and voting for the 290-seat chamber comes amid widespread political apathy and deep dissatisfaction among Iranians about biting sanctions, economic uncertainty, and talk of war over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, engaged in a power struggle between conservative factions and anxious that a high turnout bolster his legitimacy at home and abroad, said this was Iran’s most important election ever.

"With the help of God, I think the Iranian nation will on Friday give a more powerful smack to the face of the Global Arrogance [United States]," Ayatollah Khamenei said yesterday, calling on Iranians to show their "steely determination" in foiling enemy "plots."

Khamenei needs a high turnout "so that to the outside world he can say that his regime still has enough support to attract a majority of people to the polling stations," says Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California and an analyst for the Tehran Bureau website.

The task is not easy for a regime that millions of Iranians believe stole their votes in 2009 for the surging opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Hard-liners won that battle of wills, but many Iranians have now stepped away from politics as a result – making this de facto referendum on Khamenei's rule all the more significant for the regime.

"There is no energy in the air about this election at all," says a Tehran resident who could not be named. "The turnout numbers are predetermined, and no matter how many show up, they will declare 65 percent."

But the primary purpose of the vote, says this resident, is that Khamenei is "going to uproot [President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's] dynasty, which he helped create."

Khamenei vs. Ahmadinejad

In the 2009 elections, Khamenei endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad's reelection as a "divine assessment." But since then Iran's political space has shifted to the far right, marked by vicious political infighting among conservatives and a power struggle between the supreme leader and Iran's divisive president.

A host of conservative factions are fielding candidates, but a number of those linked to Ahmadinejad have sought to hide their loyalty to the controversial president. Uneasy conservative opponents have charged his closest advisers with sorcery and leading a "deviant current."

After simmering for years, the tussle between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad unfolded very publicly in April 2011 over who would be minister of Intelligence. Khamenei – whose decisions are meant to have divine writ – overruled Ahmadinejad, prompting a 10-day sulk by the president.

Ahmadinejad's term ends in just over a year, so the results tomorrow will shape Iran's political future.

Khamenei's faction is "worried that Ahmadinejad and his supporters will steal the elections, because they control the Ministry of Interior, [which] supervises and counts the vote," says Sahimi. "If Ahmadinejad somehow manages to get control of parliament, then we are going to see a lot of tension in the country."

Iran's big push for high turnout

Khamenei and senior clerics have told Iranians it is their religious duty to vote. Since its 1979 people-power Islamic revolution, the regime has trumpeted its popular support, and in every election equated a mass turnout with legitimacy.

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