Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why Khatami Should Not Run


Nay Khatami, Nay!

The recently-activated site Pouyesh is set to campaign for Khatami as president. Almost everyone affiliated with the reform movement has used a wide range of appeals, begging, advising, demanding, mandating, and appealing to duty and responsibility, ethics and morality, national crisis, the safety and security of the Islamic system, and everything possible on earth, to urge him to run.


It seems there is a general consensus in the leadership of the reform movement that Khatami is the most popular of their party in the country and the most qualified for the office of presidency. The reformists assume that his two terms of presidency have made him immune to further scrutiny from the Guardian Council. “To disqualify him would cost the regime too much,” they reason.

While his friends are absolutely right on their first assumption, on their second assumption they are either too naïve or do not know the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council can disqualify God Himself if they want to, without being accountable to any. Shariatmadari in Keyhan (the official voice of the regime) has already declared him disqualified on the basis of various charges including treason, and called him an American agent, all with its famed thuggish and vulgar language which it seems is very popular in the government higher circles. He even boasted bluntly that “many with much lesser and more trivial charges have been disqualified as candidate.” And Shariatmadari is only one of a dozen representatives of the Supreme Leader’s representative!

Recently, Hojjatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnuri, a cleric and the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard, in a similar tone, worthy of lowest of low, reduced Khatami to a nothing in his speech at a meeting of Ansar-e Hezbollah. Sadly, Khatami’s friends responded as if they aim to gain seats in heaven as martyrs rather than the office of presidency. Though once more the bitter truth of the Islamic Republic comes to surface; plain and simple, without heart, mind and wisdom, they have successfully reached the realm of, what we call it here, ‘beyond chutzpah!’

As for his popularity, yes, he is the most popular person in the country (of course next to Afshin Ghotbi, if I may say). Of this, there is no doubt, nor is there any need to prove it. But is that enough? If I understand Khatami, the public figure we know, he is the first one to be against anyone running for the office on the popularity ticket. His two terms as president stand as a witness: Not only did he never try to be a populist; he never harbored the idea of becoming a hero or savior either. We all remember him quoting from Bertolt Brecht that when Galileo gave in to the Inquisition court and denounced his theory to save his life, his disappointed followers lamented, “Pity us, now we have no hero” and Galileo responded, “Pity you to need a hero.” If nothing else, he was notorious for urging friend and foe alike to take a lead in their lives and not to sit idly, waiting for someone to come.

Many of Khatami’s friends argue that he is the only one who can unify all factions of reformists the way that no other candidate would. Though this might appear as a good reason for his friends to urge him to run, Khatami would be, also, the first person to go against it as well. If we all understand him correctly, his commitment to democracy, even though it takes a back seat to his commitment to Islam, is nothing to remain unnoticed. It is his steadfastness in this regard that reassures me he would not submit to the static and absolute ideas that his followers hold regarding the various institutions of democracy. I think he is wise enough not to believe that the qualities attributed to him, even if proven true, would necessarily be positive or helpful for the advancement of democracy in Iran. In a democratic system the candidate, even sometimes unknown to many, comes into an open competition, with competing ideas and plans, to advocate certain causes. It is in the process of challenge and confrontation and disagreement that the fittest survives and not vice versa. Deciding beforehand that Khatami is the best only brings us closer to the democracy of a “life time” presidency rather than the one we are hopeful to have.

And no, I do not have any problem with Khatami getting reelected for a third or even four term, provided that he runs for an election and competes with his opponent regardless of who he might be.

We do not need to have precedents, with or without a lapse, to justify his running for a third term. It is true that Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Margaret Thacher, and François Mitterand are among the examples given, but they were all elected for the third time only after they managed to compete with their opponents and their victory over their opponents was the only factor that gave their term legitimacy. Their third term campaigns were as fresh as their first. None of them won the election on the basis of their past record and their past term’s popularity. Let Khatami run a fair election, let him express his new ideas and his new plans, let him be challenged by his opponents, whomever they may be, and let him win. As it stands, we do not know what to expect from him yet.

Finally, it is the risk factor which is in the mind of his friends. His friends are more likely right to consider him the best qualified candidate and the least risky one among all, though what would we achieve by having our best candidate amongst the army of thugs?

Is Khatami a different person? Is he better equipped now to deal with those “third persons” who were “thorns in his way” during those two terms of his presidency? Is he able to run a country whose police, military forces, judiciary, national security, and, to a large extent, its foreign and interior affairs are all controlled by some other authorities? Is he able to run a country within a system which does not believe in representative government though it calls itself a republic? Is the Guardian Council more cordial? Is the Revolutionary Guard more polite? Are the fundamentalists more civilized? Reading article after article all urging him to run for office, I wonder if his friends are even concerned about why he should run at all. In none of those articles is there any indication as what is expected from him if he becomes president again. Within a corrupt, chaotic, primitive, unaccountable, demagogue, autocratic system, what can a person like Khatami possibly be able to do?

Undoubtedly he is popular enough to win by a reasonable margin if he runs against almost anyone at present time. But emphasizing on winning or losing is just evading the question. The presidency is not just occupying the office. It is about planning, organizing, establishing, producing, achieving, reaching, gathering, forming, and ultimately doing something. Is Khatami able to do anything? I mean, besides talking. (And please do not get me wrong. Talking is very important and Khatami is really good at it, both in style and in content, though at this point that particular skill won’t do us very good, particularly those of us living in Iran, some seventy millions of us.)

I’m sure Khatami’s friends are well aware of his limitations in dealing with those that, for better or worse, he is much closer to, by marriage, by his uniform, and by his faith to go against them; and too distance from them by his politeness, sweetness, civilized nature, and wisdom to be able to cope with them. Eight years was enough time to tell us that what we expected from him won’t ever happen. With all his differences from these people, he won’t turn his back on them as he turned his back to us. Yet, he is obliged to do precisely the opposite if he wants to be an effective president this term, and this is the choice that he will never make.

Truly if Khatami runs for the election, I will vote for him and so will many who believe in voting even if it is not a healthy election, despite my wish that he not run.

My ultimate hope and my wild dream is that Khatami announces that due to the corruption and lack of security and the absence of any guaranty for a fair election, he would refuse to accept the nomination. Also, consistent with all his teachings, I wish he would announce that due to his commitment to democracy, as it is in the nature of democracy, he prefers to pass the torch to another person whom he trusts and he endorses like many other presidents in other democratic countries. The fact that Khatami is popular is not a good justification for asking him to stay in office until he looses his popularity. People’s love and trust for him should be guided into helping the democratic process of the election and to strengthen other democratic institutions. A strong, systematic, healthy and responsible election process is far more essential than occupying the office of the presidency. Let’s give him that high place of the leadership and guidance, let’s make use of his virtues to our advantage rather than wasting it in the presidential office.

2 comments:

Lateefx said...

Mina - I can understand where you are coming from...yet it continues to perplex me how everyone seems to come up with the 'right' reasons for their agenda. The 'lifetime president' point you made really hit home...no one wants more of these everlasting, power-hungry types --- but what does the anti-Khatami crowd have to offer Iran and the world at large in the long term?

By the way...one of our authors wrote a couple pieces that at least seem inspired by some sort of hope...we should remember that we are all hoping for dignity to return to Persia, a nation, a people:
Posts in Farsi

armin kardashian said...

with admiration from Germany:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3689763,00.html