Things are not going very well for Agha Mahmoud. A year after his landslide re-election as President of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing what political commentators have long labelled ‘the second term blues.’
This particular affliction concerns virtually all those who serve a second term as president. Having won the re-election with the promise of ‘the best is yet to come’ they quickly realise that this is simply not the case.
Consider a few items with regards to President Ahmadinejad.
He had promised a reconciliation tour that was to take him to 20 of Iran’s 30 provinces in a bid to heal the wounds caused by his disputed re-election. The tour was cancelled when it became clear that such an exercise could play into the hands of an opposition movement that refuses to fade away.
Also cancelled was a promised grand gathering of key regime figures to embrace one another and let the bygones be bygones. In fact, a good number of regime grandees still refuse to accept his re-election and do not refer to him as president. Worse still, some of the key organs of the regime cannot hold regular meetings because of the continued dispute over who won last year’s election.
Last month, President Ahmadinejad tried to shift attention away from the domestic crisis by announcing the imminent dispatch of a flotilla to defy Israel’s blockade of Gaza. This week the entire exercise was cancelled with a terse announcement that ‘international configurations’ did not favour the sending of the flotilla.
Ahmadinejad had claimed that pro-Iran forces would win the Iraqi general election and create a new hinterland for the Islamic Republic. That did not happen. Iraq is now likely to emerge as an independent power with no interest in serving the Khomeinist regime’s regional ambitions.
There was more bad news for Ahmadinejad. The manoeuvre he had concocted with Brazil and Turkey to divide the UN’s Security Council failed to stop the imposition of the toughest sanctions yet on the Islamic Republic. The UN move was immediately followed by the imposition of even tougher sanctions by the European Union.
Ahmadinejad had promised Iranians that there would be no new sanctions. Now that there are new sanctions he claims that these will not work.
However the sanctions are already beginning to bite.
The much heralded ‘pipeline of peace’ that was supposed to transport $4 billion worth of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan and India will remain a pipe-dream. Both India and Pakistan have withdrawn from the project, citing the UN sanctions as an excuse.
Also cancelled are a series of agreements with Western and Asian companies to develop the South Pars gas reserves. As a result, the entire project has been handed over to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which, for obvious reasons, lacks the expertise for such an undertaking.
Ahmadinejad had also promised that Iran would become self-sufficient in gasoline by building 12 new refineries before the end of this second term. Work on the promised refineries was supposed to start in August. Now, however, it is clear that not one of the refineries will be built anytime soon. Foreign companies with the expertise refuse to challenge the sanctions decreed by the UN. Even the Austrian national oil company which had ignored some of the previous sanctions has now decided to play by the rules and stay away from the Islamic Republic.
With annual growth down to around two percent and unemployment rising at the rate of 3000 jobs lost each day, according to the Ministry of Labour in Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s second term has not had a bright start on the economic front. As for his much advertised privatisation scheme, the whole exercise is beginning to look like a looting raid by the IRGC. Within the past 10 months the Islamic Revolutionary Guard has become the owner of major public monopolies. The ownership is exercised through a number of companies owned and controlled by senior commanders of the IRGC and their business surrogate. These companies paid a total of $7 billion for assets valued at over $25 billion. And that is not all. The capital used for the purchase came from state owned banks in the form of long term low-interest loans to be repaid from the profit of the companies. In other words a few dozen IRGC officers became billionaires overnight.
Some Iranians call the so-called privatisation scheme ‘the greatest plunder in Iranian history since the Mongol invasion in the medieval times.’
The ‘Great Plunder’ may have pleased the IRGC elite. But it has angered some powerful mullahs who spend more time doing business than dappling in Shariah. These mullahs have seized upon a gaffe made by Ahmadinejad earlier this month with regard to the Hijab. Having ordered a new crackdown on women who allow a strand of rebellious hair to escape their mandatory headgears, Ahmadinejad tried to back away by saying this would be done through ‘cultural and educational work’ rather than public caning and imprisonment.
Hard-line mullahs have lashed out against Ahmadinejad for having sounded ‘lenient.’ One businessman mullah, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati even claimed that Ahmadinejad had tried to defy the Divine Will, no less.
For almost a decade the main theme of Iranian politics has been a gradual but steady transfer of power from the mullahs to the military. Ahmadinejad was propelled into the presidency in the hope that he would speed up and smooth out the transition.
Carried away by his unexpected promotion into a major historic role, Ahmadinejad, a frustrated showman, has provoked a series of internal and external tensions that have complicated the transition.
It may be too early to write-off Ahmadinejad before he completes his second term. But one thing is certain: the next three years are likely to prove to be the longest and the most eventful second-term of any president in the Khomeinist system.