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Eight days to shape Iran's future

By MARK WILLIAMS, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   June 14, 2013 at 8:23 AM   |   Comments

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LONDON, June 14 (UPI) -- This month, two major events in the Iranian political calendar will take place only a matter of days apart: Iran's presidential elections began Friday and the largest gathering of Iran's opposition movement is to take place in Paris just eight days later.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei views the presidential elections as an opportunity to cement his future and that of his regime. Over in Paris the opposition's leader Maryam Rajavi sees the divisions within the regime as an unexpected opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to the regime's core.

We are now only days away from seeing how things develop in the ever-changing Iranian political sphere.

Even the Iranian regime's staunchest supporters will be unable to deny that this election has taken a worrying turn for the regime.

Of course, the usual process of rejecting various candidates is part and parcel of any Iranian presidential election. However, some of those sidelined on this occasion were unexpected names.

Iran's supreme leader has sidelined many in the past but no name has been more significant than that of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. A founding father of the current regime and potentially Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's closest ally in the early days, he has been disrespectfully swept aside by Khamenei. The way in which Rafsanjani has been treated by his own establishment won't sit comfortably for many of the regime's core members.

Although things now appear to have settled within the regime as a set of candidates who have vowed their allegiance to the supreme leader are set for the polls, this is the calm before an all-mighty storm. Iranian presidential elections don't pass without incident. The Iranian population regularly uses such a national event to protest and demand regime change while the regime will be keen to keep a lid on any protests.

The Iranian opposition movement is keeping a close eye on proceedings. Rajavi and the National Council of Resistance of Iran see, as we do, a regime juggling multiple balls.

The regime is dealing with its nuclear ambitions, the financial resources that requires and the political ramifications which flow from it. Further, the regime has to allocate finance and personnel to keep its ally President Bashar Assad in power in Syria. Finally, the regime is facing economic crisis and a population demanding change.

Add to this the infighting which has flowed from the presidential elections and the Iranian opposition is looking to give the regime the little push that could topple the wavering house of cards.

On June 22, Rajavi will address a huge gathering of Iranians in Paris. In what will no doubt be an enormous show of force by Iran's largest opposition movement, tens of thousands will gather in exile to demand regime change in their homeland. The movement will no doubt hope that in the preceding week, their supporters inside Iran will lead widespread protests against the regime following another round of sham elections. They will look to intensify pressure on the regime as it struggles to maintain a stranglehold on an angry population.

The coming days and weeks will show us a great deal about the shape of Iran's future. Let us hope that the regime's sham elections are boycotted as they have been in the past and the cracks begin to widen in this brutal regime.

On the back of these divisions, protests can intensify. On this occasion unlike in the past our leaders should back the protesters and back the opposition movement they represent.

This time next year we could well be looking at the coming few days as a turning point, we don't have long to wait to find out.

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(Mark Williams, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Ceredigion, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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