Moderation's outbreak in Iran

April 15, 1992

The parliamentary elections in Iran will strengthen President Hashemi Rafsanjani's campaign to modernize the economy and improve relations with the outside world. The apostles of exporting revolution, in the tradition of the late and revered Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, took a fearful drubbing.

This does not mean that Iran, rapidly remilitarizing to reclaim the dominance in the region that the U.S. supported in the days of the shah, means to be a friend of the U.S. It is likely, rather, to become a more competent rival to U.S. hegemony around the Persian Gulf in the vacuum caused by the destruction of Iraq's capabilities.

After the first round of voting, moderates had many of the seats filled in the Majlis, or parliament, and fire-breathing revolutionary clergymen were doing poorly. A woman won election for the first time from outside Tehran, and several more were poised to win. The biggest vote-getter was a clergyman who hosts a popular television program on family life, not on ideology. Run-offs are needed because winners must have two-thirds of the vote.

Some caution is needed in judging the electoral barometer of revolutionary Iran. This is a country where the leading political faction is the Society of Combatant Clergymen, and where the Council of Guardians allows only the spiritually correct to run for office. The catch is that the Society of Combatant Clergymen is the moderate party of the president, and the Council of Guardians weeded several hothead exporters of revolution off the polling lists as spiritually incorrect. Still, within limits, it was a real election for 270 winners among more than 2,000 candidates.

The result will strengthen the president for the rest of his term, through 1994. This will make it easier for him to call off the export of revolution, so threatening to other Islamic countries, and to restore relations with such regimes as Egypt and Morocco. It will lead to a more diverse economy with more entrepreneurship and foreign investment and less statism. It may make Iran's influence more constructive in Afghanistan and the Islamic republics of formerly Soviet Central Asia.

The leader of the extremist faction, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, admitted defeat and predicted a shift in Iranian policy toward better relations with the United States. To him, it is a historic change away from the legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini. But from an American perspective, this will not be the end of Iran's revolution so much as the emergence of its kinder and gentler side, primarily for domestic consumption.

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