Washington DC – You can’t take the parliamentary elections in Iran at face value, it seems. Panelists at the National Iranian American Council’s April 8 conference agreed that Iran’s March 14 parliamentary (Majles) elections were rife with shady dealings andglad-handing. “Elections [in Iran] are not free or fair, but always interesting,” Barbara Slavin, a Fellow at the US Institute of Peace and Senior Diplomatic Reporter for USA Today, said.
The conference’s first panel, “New Majles, NewChallenges?”, featured Slavin and Scott Peterson, Istanbul Bureau Chief for the Christian Science Monitor. The reporters, who covered the elections from inside Iran, were joined by Dr. Ahmad Sadri, Professor of Sociology and Chair of Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College, to discuss Iran’s next move.
The experts explained how the results of the election were not unexpected. “The Conservatives will never allow themselves to lose a major election again,”Peterson said, citing that the conservatives in Iran learned their lesson since the 1997 and 2001 presidential elections.
According to Sadri, conservatives in Iran have learned a new tactic: “Theocratic manipulation,” or “election engineering.” That is, they have learned to modulatethe elections in their favor, exemplified in the fact that an unprecedented number of reformist candidates were eliminated from this year’s elections.
Though the new Majles will not substantially affect Iran’s nuclear policies, panelists agreed that dialogue and engagement is necessary to achieve US regional interest. Peterson expressed frustration with the Bush Administration’s attitude towards diplomacy, referencing Vice President Dick Cheney’s statement rejecting Tehran’s 2003 offer for broad negotiations: “We [Americans] don’t talk to evil [Iran].”
Slavin also commented on the cost of procrastinating our diplomatic efforts with Iran, stating, “It’s a pity that we haven’t done anything because it’s so late in the game.” It is widely accepted that Washington has lost leverage over Iran in the past few years.
All three panelists agreed that Iranian politics are fluid. Peterson asserted that Iran is guided by “cost-benefit analysis.” Sadri agreed, exploring the Iranian mindset during elections: “Why do Iranians participate in rigged elections with the people who are rigging them? Iranians make a rational choice to participate in elections because they see that the benefit of participation outweighs the costs,” Sadri said.