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Opinion: Though Ahmadinejad will likely have a second term, this election won't soon be forgotten.
Protests in the streets, angry crowds in numbers not seen since the revolution in 1979, have some people wondering if Iran is on the verge of revolution. But it’s more likely, if the street protests get out of hand, there will be a China-style Tiananmen, with voices crying for reform silenced by gun fire.
The religious authorities that constitute the regime, headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will move quickly to avoid either outcome. Survival of the regime is always the first priority, and they will consolidate their power.
The Iranian presidential elections of 2009 will not soon be forgotten, however. The depth and passion of support for the reform candidate, Mir Hussein Mousavi, has exceeded anything other reform movements have seen. It was very unusual for the Guardian Council, which oversees elections, to agree to a partial recount in the disputed vote. But it is highly unlikely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will end up anything other than president of the Islamic republic for another term.
We may never know how much, if any, fraud was involved in the election results. The nationalist-populist Ahmadinejad certainly has his following.
The question the West is asking is: Will Iran emerge from this election more or less willing now to accept President Obama’s offer of negotiations without pre-conditions, which was the big change from Bush administration’s approach. Ahmadinejad will have a legitimacy problem, both at home and abroad, given the doubt cast on the vote, but it is highly unlikely that the Iranian opposition’s calls for an annulment of the vote and new elections will be heeded.
Clearly the outcome is a big disappointment for the Obama administration. Hints had been coming out of Iran that, after the election, the climate for dialogue with the West would improve. With Ahmadinejad still in power this may not come to pass. But Obama’s offer was made with Ahmadinejad as president, and his reelection has not changed the reasoning behind that policy.
When all is said and done, if Ayatollah Khamenei doesn’t want improved relations with the West there won’t be any, no matter who won the presidential election. But the reverse is also true.