27 June, 2009 – MRZine – Monthly Review
With mass rallies for government accountability dominating the news from Iran since June 12, Western audiences are missing the underlying controversy that polarizes the country’s electorate. We hear much about the boastful social conservatism of president Ahmadinejad, whose contested re-election on June 12 fueled days of bloody protests led by his moderate challengers. But the battle is also about welfare reform and private property rights in an economy that has been state-dominated since the Islamic Republic was established thirty years ago. Whether Iran’s national oil revenue should now be directed away from grassroots priorities emerged as a major election issue this year. All of Ahmadinejad’s three challengers promised to promote investor-friendly policies if elected.
The opposition insists that Ahmadinejad unfairly buys voter loyalty with consumer subsidies, low interest loans, and similar ‘handouts.’ The president has especially enraged the managerial class with his wildly popular monthly rallies in the provinces, where he orders funding on the spot for the infrastructure needs of common folks. A special flashpoint is the pace of a long-anticipated privatization and deregulation drive that was officially launched a year ago but was not embraced by the Ahmadinejad administration.