Monday, January 01, 2007

The Iranian Deng Xiaoping: The Return of Rafsanjani

Foreign observers regarded Rafsanjani’s victory as the most important outcome of the election for the third Assembly of Experts. Some even went as far as referring to him as “elevator,” which was a nickname given to Deng Xiaoping upon his return to power in the aftermath of Mao’s death.

Rafsanjani’s recent victory is important in that it comes after two consecutive loses in the sixth Majlis and the ninth presidential elections. It is even more remarkable given the litany of charges and criticisms that Ahmadinejad and his supporters directed at Rafsanjani’s way in the past year. This is why many of Rafsanjani’s supporters believed that a loss in these recent elections could mark the end of Rafsanjani’s 50-year-long political existence.

There have been many politicians and statesmen who returned to power and prominence after bearing defeats. Perhaps the most famous are Napoleon, Winston Churchill and Indira Gandhi. But Deng Xiaoping is the one who earned the nickname “elevator” for his miraculous return to power in his mid-seventies, long after Mao and his radical supporters got the impression that they had buried him.

Rafsanjani’s first significant defeat came in 1999, during the sixth Majlis elections. The elections took place two years after Rafsanjani left the presidential palace by inaugurating hundreds of construction projects and dubbing himself “the commander of construction.” But within those two years, the media used its newly found freedoms under Khatami to attack Rafsanjani and his involvement in the killing of numerous dissidents throughout the 1990’s. When the votes were counted Rafsanjani was announced as Tehran’s 31st candidate [only 30 candidates are elected from the Tehran district]. The Guardian Council got involved and bumped Rafsanjani up to the 29th spot, but Rafsanjani released a statement in which he announced his resignation.

Rafsanjani then received the most number of votes in the first round of the ninth presidential elections. But a second round was scheduled since he fell short of receiving one-third of the votes, a benchmark established by the constitution. In the second round Rafsanjani faced Ahmadinejad, a mid-ranking official who served under him and was young enough to be his son. Suddenly Ahmadinejad found his way to the presidential palace by winning five million more votes than Rafsanjani.

It was tempting to think that this was the last attempt by the Islamic Republic’s number two man, who was now in his seventh decade of life. But Ahmadinejad’s radical policies, and his disposal of thousands of managers, experts and university professors once again turned the heads towards the man who had long been calling for moderate policies.

In a statement that he released after the election, the Iranian Deng Xiaoping wrote, “28 years after the advent of the Islamic revolution, it is a great honor for a student to be the people’s first choice in a majority of the 11 elections for the Majlis, the Assembly of Experts and the presidency.