Three days before the presidential election in Iran, Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai, the "principal candidate" of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP), scheduled a public rally in Tehran.
An hour after the rally was supposed to have started, only 1,000 people had showed up in a stadium that can accommodate tens of thousands. The crowd looked ridiculously small and the rally was canceled.
In recent days, underground radio stations run by opponents of the regime have been predicting that Rajai would muster no more than 10 percent of the popular vote -- or something in the region of 1.6 million -- provided the election was not rigged.
Despite Rajai's total lack of political charisma, he was described by the IRP Secretary-General Muhammad Javad Bahonar as the "principal candidate" of the party. Rajai is not even an IRP member but he had one qualification which made him acceptable to the mullahs. He was "maktabi," meaning "one who follows a doctrine." He is thus a follower of Khomeini's fundamentalism.
Rajai was one of 71 people who registered as a candidate after President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was ousted from office June 22. The 12-man Council of Guardians of the Constitution, a kind of senate handpicked by Khomeini, then went to work and eliminated 67 of the candidates.
A council spokesman later explained the four men who had been allowed to stay in the running were all "maktabis" and "true Muslims" who were expected to follow the correct line.
But Bahonar made a revealing statement on July 19. He told a press conference that all four candidates had the backing of his party but that Rajai was the "principal candidate."
He said the party had decided to have more than one candidate "in case something should happen to Mr. Rajai" before the polling. He meant of course that it was a precaution against a possible assassination of Rajai.
The underground "Free Voice of Iran" radio commented cynically: "In read democracies the people go to the polls to cast their votes to elect the president of their choice, but in Khomeini's Iran the president is first elected and then the people cast their votes for him."
The Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq, a guerrilla organization, did not consider the affair very funny and promised a day of violence on the July 24 election day. The violence, of course, has been building up with an unprecedented wave of bomb explosions rocking Tehran and other cities.
The total number of deaths and injuries in these incidents has not so far been announced but the targets were all fundamentalist centers including "komitehs" (revolutionary security centers), fundamentalist libraries, printing presses, and recruiting centers of the Revolutionary Guards.
Most of these bomb and grenade attacks have been amateurish attempts, and none even remotely resembled the bomb blast which killed Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti and some 70 others on June 28. This has led some forces to believe that the really hard-core leftist guerrillas have not yet gone to work in Iran and that the bombings were the work of "supporters" of guerrilla organizations.
Between June 20 and July 23, exections by firing squad stood at 278 with the overwhelming majority being leftists.
But the fundamentalist crackdown has been going on relentlessly during this same period. The IRP has over the last 2 1/2 years since the revolution set up a wide network of "Islamic associations" in practically every corner of the country. These are to be found in schools, hospitals, government offices, and even in private companies where the number of employees is large.
The members of these associations are quite often such low- ranking workers as the janitors, messenger boys, clerks, and telephone operators who act as spies for the fundamentalists and eavesdrop on conversations of other employees.
Several of these have been picked up by revolutionary Guards over the past month and taken to prison. Some have been shot. Others are awaiting trial.
It is still uncertain whether these methods will eventually succeed in wiping out the leftists in Iran or merely harden them. But it comes at a time when the popularity of the fundame ntalist regime is itself at its lowest.