Isolated and losing popularity, in a surprising move, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decided to split ranks with the very political party who helped him come to power in 2005.
It is the second time he has done it. The first incident occured during the Municipal elections in Iran in 2006, whereby his sister Parvin, and other supporters decided to split ranks from members of the right wing Principalist Party (known in Farsi as Osulgarayan) to whom Ahmadinejad originally belonged. Called The Scent of Good Service (Rayehe Khosh Khedmat in Farsi) coalition, his new coalition labelled itself as pro-Ahmadinejad’s policies during the 2006 elections.
With parliamentary elections scheduled for March 14th, members of the right wing Principalist Party have been trying to form a united coalition. Their goal is to improve their position against reformists and pragmatists in the next Parliament (Majlis).
This despite the fact that some prominent members of this movement such as Ali Larijani (former top nuclear negotiator), Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (current Tehran Mayor), and Mohsen Rezai (deputy head of Expediency Council), have one time or another competed against, or have had some kind a dispute with the President.
Viewing the reformists and pragmatists as a bigger enemy, while wishing to strengthen their dominance in the Majlis, many such senior politicians have so far refused to split ranks. Their unity is admirable, because had they decided to form a separate coalition against the increasingly unpopular Ahmadinejad, their chances for success would have actually been higher. This was witnessed in the 2006 municipal elections in Iran, whereby the coalition belonging to Ghalibaf and other moderate conservatives beat Ahmadinejad’s coalition in almost every single voting district.
After that loss, many thought that Ahmadinejad and his allies had learned their lesson. It seems that this is not the case. On Sunday 24thof February, his supporters stunned other fellow Principalist colleagues by declaring that the pro-Ahmadinejad Scent of Good Service coalition has reorganized itself again, and will be running as a separate coalition in the holy city of Qom, for the upcoming Majlis elections.
What is worrying is that Ahmadinejad’s allies are considering Ghasem Ravanbakhsh, the chief editor of the pro-Messianic Parto Sokhan newspaper, and an ally of Iran’s top messianic cleric, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, as their representative. This would mean that not only is Ahmadinejad trying to install his messianic allies in top ministerial posts (such as intelligence and internal affairs), he is also trying to do the same in the next Majlis as well.
With his economic policies facing the scorn of many Iranians, Ahmadinejad’s recent decision to split ranks is a tactical mistake, likely to cost him even more popularity, and influence inside Iranian politics. It is also the sign of a desperate politician, who is looking for every opportunity to improve his profile in a country which is becoming tired of his rhetoric and empty promises.
In the long run, the consequences of Ahmadinejad’s latest strategy are likely to be positive for the West. This is because Ahmadinejad’s strongest competitors, such as Larijani and Ghalibaf are more moderate than him. The weaker he is, the stronger they become. Although they are not the ultimate decision makers in Iran, the more power his competitors have, the more lobbying influence they will have with Iran’ supreme leader regarding important issues such as the nuclear program.
However in the short run, the expected defeat of Ahmadinejad’s allies at the next Majlis elections is likely to increase his motivations to provoke a conflict with the West, as this could be his only saviour for the 2009 presidential elections. With the recent assassination of Imad Mughniye in Damascus, and Hezbollah’s promises that Israel will soon collapse, Ahmadinejad is doing everything he can to signal his intentions.
His biggest obstacle is likely to be Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who does not seem to want a conflict with the West or Israel for now.
This could all change if another major blow is delivered against Hezbollah, or if Iran feels that an attack by Israel against its nuclear installations is imminent.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author with Yossi Melman ofThe Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)