June 29, 2009 / 7:27 PM / 11 years ago

Q+A-What might happen next in Iran?

TEHRAN, June 29 (Reuters) - Iran’s leaders have weathered the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but the tumult over a disputed presidential election has exposed deep splits in the ruling elite.

Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, confirmed on Monday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election victory after a partial recount, official media reported.

Here are some questions and answers on possible next steps in the Islamic Republic, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, whose nuclear programme has alarmed the West and Israel.



WHAT OPTIONS ARE LEFT FOR THE OPPOSITION?

Not many. Riot police and religious Basij militia have quelled mass demonstrations since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signalled on June 19 they would not be tolerated.

Even before Monday’s final approval of the election result, the Guardian Council had deemed the vote the healthiest since the 1979 Islamic revolution and ruled out any annulment, as demanded by Mirhossein Mousavi, the runner-up in the poll.

The Council said it dismissed most complaints submitted by defeated presidential candidates about the June 12 election.

Hours before the Council’s widely-expected announcement, witnesses reported an increased presence of riot police in Tehran, in an apparent measure to counter any renewed protests.

Hundreds of opposition activists, academics, journalists and others have been swept into detention since the disputed election result, leaving protesters leaderless and unable to coordinate any coherent strategy.

It is hard to see scope for more legal challenges, short of attacking the position of the Supreme Leader himself, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Mousavi ally, chairs the Assembly of Experts, which has the constitutional power to depose Khamenei. It has never tried to do so.

Rafsanjani, seen as a possible mediator in the election row, on Sunday praised Khamenei’s decision last week to extend a deadline for the Guardian Council to examine objections by defeated candidates and urged the council to do a thorough job.

Symbolic protests may continue.

After dark, some people are still chanting "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)" from their rooftops, mimicking tactics used during the 1979 revolution, but the nightly cries are weakening.

There has been talk of other forms of civil disobedience, including strike action, but these have yet to materialise.



HOW CAN THE LEADERSHIP SHORE UP ITS POSITION?

By blaming the West and repressing any more dissent, judging by its recent actions.

Now the street protests have fizzled, Iranian officials have been sowing the message that the unrest was the work of menacing foreign powers, notably the United States and Britain.

Khamenei on Sunday denounced interference by "international ill-wishers", a day after Ahmadinejad vowed to use his second term to make the West rue its meddling in Iran.

The hardline leaders, backed by the elite Revolutionary Guard, could crack down harder on Mousavi, fellow-candidate Mehdi Karoubi and others still contesting the election result.

But this might further harm the legitimacy of Iran’s hybrid blend of republican institutions and religious rule, disquieting senior clerics who have stayed mostly on the sidelines.



SO IS IT ALL OVER?

Not really. The crisis over the election could still have far-reaching repercussions. Ahmadinejad has proved one of Iran’s most divisive figures. Khamenei’s open support for him has eroded the concept of the Supreme Leader as impartial arbiter.

Influential conservative politicians such as ex-police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and parliament speaker Ali Larijani may yet work against Ahmadinejad in the months to come.

A crucial test will come when the president, due to be sworn in between July 26 and August 19, picks his new cabinet. It will need the approval of the conservative-dominated parliament, which has repeatedly rejected some of his past choices.



WHAT ABOUT OBAMA’S HOPES FOR DIALOGUE WITH IRAN?

Down but not out. Immediate prospects for any such dialogue seem dim, but U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy still aims at eventual engagement on the nuclear and other issues.

Western governments are in a quandary. They might not like Ahmadinejad, but still share important interests with Iran in promoting stability in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq.

And while the world watches the ferment in Iran, the centrifuges enriching uranium are still spinning — to fuel nuclear power stations, as Iran says, or to acquire the knowhow to make atomic bombs, as the West suspects.



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