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Iran's political contest continues as the Guardian Council rules out annulment of the elections

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Iran's Guardian Council (profile below), charged with reviewing the election results, has ruled out the possibility of annuling the elections, a ruling that effectively maintains the contested president Ahmadinejad in his post following his landslide victory of June 12 that many believe was rigged. This ruling appears to close the door to the opposition pursuing a legal process of contesting the poll results.

"If a major breach occurs in an election, the Guardian Council may annul the votes that come out of a particular affected ballot box, polling station, district, or city like how it was done in the parliamentary elections," said the spkesperson for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei.

"Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election. Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place," he added.

On Tuesday, it was announced that a special court has been established to deal with protestors. AP reports that, "Ebrahim Raisi, a top judicial official, confirmed Tuesday that a special court has been set up to deal with detained protesters. "Elements of riots must be dealt with to set an example. The judiciary will do that," he was quoted as saying by the state-run radio."

Juan Cole, a historian on the Middle East, writes that:

"...as it developed in 1979-1980, the revolutionary Iranian regime has two wings. There is a sphere of clerical authority, represented by Khamenei, and a sphere of popular sovereignty, represented by the parliament and, later, the president. The clerical sphere includes not only Khamenei but also two collective bodies, the Guardianship Council and the Expediency Council (which has among other duties the charge of reconciling conflicts between the civil parliament and the Guardianship Council). The clerical sphere also includes the judiciary."

He later adds:

"The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 changed these dynamics, since his views overlapped in some areas with those of the clerical sphere. In essence, Iran moved closer to being a one-party state. By stealing the election for Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has effectively made a coup on behalf of the clerical sphere in alliance with lay hard liners, which threatens to virtually abolish the sphere of popular sovereignty. That is what Mousavi and Karroubi and their followers are objecting to so vehemently."

Since the security crackdown in Tehran that resulted in the deaths of protestors, public demonstrations in central Tehran have shrunk in size due to fears of reprisal. However, despite extreme police measures, public opposition persists. Security forces retain a strong presence in the capital city, preventing people from gathering in large crowds.

The first part of a protestor's account of Tehran on Monday:

"I am just back from 7 tir square where there was supposed to be a memorial for the 7th day of the martyrs.

"Drove down there at 4 ish. there were a lot of people in the square, but no one allowed to gather, so people were just walking up and down the meydoon (square). there was a HEAVY military presence — all kinds, basij, riot police, khahki (camouflage) uniformed ones — all on motorbikes, or in pick up trucks or standing — they ALL had those batons and weren’t allowing people to stand still (ie. gather). we walked around and tried to have a look from those walkways that cover the meydoon/square but the police were also on them so wouldn’t let u stand still for a second.

The voice of opposition was heard over Tehran, like other nights, as people shouted "God is great" from their rooftops. A video of this, alleged to be from Monday night, has been widely distributed online.

Information has been more difficult to come by regarding activities outside of Tehran, though the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Ahvaz, Tabriz, Ardabil, Rasht and Mashhad have had multiple reports of protests in the past week. A video has recently surfaced showing opposition activity in Tabriz, alleging that it took place this Monday night.

The violence and resulting deaths, widely shown in videos and photos from Saturday, appear to have hardened a number of the protestor's opposition to the government. This has been compounded by their inability to seek redress through legal means, following the Guardian Council's recent ruling in support of the polling process. Furthermore, many protests have taken on the character of mourning for those who have died during the past ten days of opposition.

Strikes have been called for this week. If widespread and sustained, this could prove to be an effective tactic. By simply not showing up to work, people have the potential of seriously disrupting business in the capital and the country. It remains to be seen how widespread strikes may be. An important commitment on strikes can come from the transport sector. If these workers strike, then many other people will have no access to their jobs due to a lack of transportation.

Former president Khatami's Facebook page has called for silent protests around city bazaars (Farsi, rough English translation). The intent behind this being that these central markets would be slowed or even closed due to protests. Even if security forces use force to disperse crowds, the very use of force would disrupt business, and may dissuade shoppers from visiting. I believe that the strategy here is also to bring the opposition to within site of the bazaars in order to entangle the bazaaries in the situation, and perhaps draw them into their camp. The bazaaries are, as a collective, a powerful force of business, and they were very important as strikers and funders leading up to the 1979 revolution.

Since Saturday, security forces seem to have tried to, and often succeeded in, preventing opposition gatherings by setting up blockades to key meeting points. I expect that they will try to do the same around Tehran's central bazaar in order to keep rallies from forming there.

Though the former president Rafsanjani, one of Iran's most powerful and richest people, has not been very visible during this crisis, rumours persist of his activity in the background. Many believe that he has for days been meeting senior clerics in order to garner their support for the opposition. Protestors appear to have placed a lot of hope on this. Significant clerical opposition to supreme leader Khamenei's statements in support of Ahmadinejad would prove to be a challenge that could not be ignored by the contested president nor by the supreme leader.

Rafsanjani did not appear at supreme leader Khamenei's Friday sermon in Tehran.

The near invisible component of political maneuvering by Iran's elite is an important factor in determining the outcome of this power struggle in the near future.

Guardian Council - a profile

The Guardian Council is composed of twelve members: six jurists that are nominated by the judiciary and approved by the majlis (parliament), as well as six theologians selected by the supreme leader. The Guardian Council is very significant in determining the course of politics within the country. It bar potential candidates from running for the presidency, majlis, the Assembly of Experts or in local councils. It also approves all bills that are passed by the majlis. This power is meant to ensure that legislation adheres to Islamic law and to the constitution. The council has ten days to deliberate but may request additional time if deemed necessary.

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