The upset election victory of a purportedly "moderate" cleric,Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammed Khatemi, as Iran's President on May 23 has generatedeuphoria among Iran's youth and professional classes.
Although Mr. Khatemi comes out of the clerical establishment, and othercandidates were disallowed who would have provided a more stark alternativeto the current regime, he won strong support from younger voters, who areclearly fed up with the stifling social environment perpetuated by theclerical regime. That is the overwhelming message of these elections. TheIranian people have voted for greater freedom, and for more rational government.By voting en masse against the regime's hand-picked candidate, Majlis speakerNateq-Nouri, they have expressed profound disatisfaction with the regime'srepressive policies, and a desire for democratic change.
The Foundation for Democracy in Iran has been actively engaged in monitoringthe progress of the elections, and is pleased to note that early attemptsby the hard-line Nateq-Nouri supporters, known as Ansar-e Hezbollah, werenot allowed to degenerate into widespread street violence. This was preventednot thanks to the regime - which openly encouraged Ansar-e Hezbollah demonstratorswho repeatedly broke up Khatemi rallies - but thanks to the cool-headednessof Mr. Khatemi and his supporters, who are to be applauded for not fallinginto the traps laid for them byagents-provocateurs.
Many in the West will be eager to interpret these elections as the endof a process of democratization in Iran, that should be followed by warmgestures of support, including the lifting of U.S. sanctions against theIslamic Republic.
We believe this is premature. These elections are the beginning, notthe end, of the long road to democracy in Iran. Much work must now be doneto ensure that meaningful, measurable change is enacted. Mr. Khatemi willbe judged on his willingness and ability to bring such changes about.
Among the guages of democracy we hope will emerge in the coming months:
Regardless of whether Mr. Khatemi fulfills the expectations he has aroused,we believe the people of Iran have taken a bold step to reassert theirsovereign rights, and are to be applauded for expressing their thirst forfreedom and democracy.
The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is a private, non-profit corporationregistered in the State of Maryland. Contact: Kenneth R. Timmerman, ExecutiveDirector. Tel: (301) 946-2918. Fax: (301) 942-5341. FDI materials, includingthe FDI Newswire, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at http://www.iran.org