Regardless of how the Iranian public might feel about Ahmadinejad's performance during his last four years in office, which brought little improvement to the lives of many, could he really have lost the battle to renew his term? Look who he has behind him: Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution Ali Khamenei, the Republican Guards, the intelligence and security agencies, the army, the state media, not to mention Khamenei's deputies in the provinces who generally have the deciding vote on any issue.
Whatever produced the official results of the polls, the Iranians certainly staged an exciting election that brought out more than 70 per cent of registered voters. Although all nominees outside of the ruling religious establishment were screened out, it being constitutionally required that candidates subscribe to the primary tenets of the Islamic revolution and, above all, the principle of rule by the clergy, or velayat-e faqih, the campaigns were vibrant, dynamic and passion-filled. The contest between conservatives and radical Islamists heated to unprecedented temperatures and often departed from the script, exposing the depth of tensions and contradictions within the ruling elite. Angry charges of bribery, corruption and lying hurtled back and forth, with some of the verbal shrapnel even striking the supreme guide himself, accused by former president Rafsanjani of bias and conspiring in silence with Ahmadinejad.
The incumbent president may have won, but the Iranian regime itself emerged from the electoral battle sorely bruised and with its robes in tatters. Not a single pillar was left unscathed by the invective hurled by candidates during their debates, even as the chief of the Republic Guards cautioned against the anger that has now burst into flame in the country's streets and squares. The majority of the middle class, the intelligentsia, university staff and students, practitioners of the liberal professions, most of the new generations and the majority of women were weary of the current situation and had hoped for change. But they were dealt one bitter blow after another since the end of Mohamed Khatami's presidency, perhaps because they lost sight of the fact that all the strings in the game pass through Khamenei's hands.
Friday's elections consolidated the hold of Iran's conservatives and radicals who believe that their country possesses sufficient sources of strength to score a historic victory against the West and that none of these should be squandered. One thing is for sure, dialogue with Washington, which had been awaiting the outcome of the elections, will be very tough going, more in the nature of a row between the deaf. In the process, the West may turn to the UN Security Council again to demand harsher sanctions against Tehran, which will try to fan the flames of strife in Lebanon and Palestine in order to bolster its own hardline stance.