Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Referendum or revolution

It's difficult for outsiders to know the reality of Iranian politics. But here are some hints.

Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest
A group of prominent Iranian intellectuals have said they have lost hope that the Islamic Republic can reform, and have called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling establishment is still backed by a majority.

A day after Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, touted the idea of holding a referendum as a means to heal Iran’s deepening political divisions, 15 figures – including some based in Iran – said leaders had failed to deliver on republican ideals…

Rouhani did not elaborate on what he was proposing to put to a vote, but he has sounded increasingly frustrated about the political stalemate…

Meanwhile, the Iranian currency has taken another dive against the dollar in recent days, adding to fears about the state of the economy.

Speaking last week, Rouhani expressed concern about what he said was the unwillingness of his hardline opponents to listen to the voices of ordinary people, particularly after a wave of unrest that began in late December.

“The previous regime, which thought that its rule would be lifelong and its monarchy eternal, lost everything because it did not listen to the voices of criticism, advice, reformers, the clergy, elders and intellectuals,” he said, referring to the late shah’s rule. “The previous regime did not listen to the voice of people’s protests and only listened to one voice, and that was the people’s revolution. For a government that only wants to hear the sound of revolution, it will be too late.”

The activists’ letter… criticises the conservative-dominated judiciary, which acts independently of Rouhani’s government. “The judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power…

Saeed Barzin, a London-based Iranian analyst, said Rouhani’s call for a referendum was a threat to push back the economic and political meddling of an unelected faction dominated by hardliners, in particular the Revolutionary Guards.

“The undercurrent issue is how the power will be distributed after Khamenei, and in a way the power struggle has already begun,” Barzin said. “Reformists feel under threat that the current situation might lead to people losing hope in reform or becoming radical or becoming apolitical. Hardliners, on the other side, might see an opportunity here to scapegoat Rouhani and even conduct a soft coup d’état, but it’s a gamble.”…

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