By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
As Iran's Presidential elections approach, the fundamentalist regime finds itself in its most difficult dilemma since its inception more than 30 years ago. The supreme leader must make his decision by June whether to cooperate with the West in abandoning his regime's nuclear program or risk increased isolation and domestic discontent that, despite escalating executions, is becoming uncontrollable.
Tensions between the outgoing President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Ali Khamenei, the regime's supreme leader, have continued to build over the past year with Ahmadinejad threatening to expose the depths of the regime's corruption as his term in office comes to a close. There are also growing signs of further fissures between Khamenei and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President and a stalwart of the regime. Khamenei is increasingly being backed into a corner both at home and abroad and faces a catch-22 with every decision before him.
Should he choose a close confidant as the winner of the sham 'elections', it could set off further internal divisions and feuds, with marginalized factions exposing the regime's corruption and fanning the flames of dissent. A move like this would mean even more repression, censorship and purges within the regime. By running a tight ship Khamenei could ensure that his foreign policy objectives are implemented with little debate or criticism, but such intransigence towards the West and any heightened drive to acquire nuclear weapons would bring added economic embargoes with added internal unrest.
But Khamenei knows that to make a half hearted attempt at an open election with diverse candidates may set the stage for his own eventual demise. It could embolden politicians who have already begun to defy him, and further undermine his legitimacy even within the ruling establishment. It could also create further divisions over the regime's foreign policy and strategic goals, as evidenced by the recent criticisms voiced by a number of politicians.
The nuclear issue is a two-edged sword. For the regime to continue to defy the international community and withstand increasingly tough sanctions must inevitably exacerbate domestic unrest and criticism of Khamenei's rule. Alternatively, for the regime to belatedly attempt to come to an agreement with the West must imperil its prestige. This would weaken the resolve of the regime's supporters at a crucial time. Both paths are fraught with peril. Hence, elections are not the only tough choice facing Khamenei.
The imminent collapse of the Syrian regime is yet another dilemma that Tehran faces, and the recent involvement of Hezbollah in the conflict demonstrates just how desperate Iran has become to delay this reality. The loss of its main regional ally Bashar Assad would be such a disastrous blow to Iran that it is willing to risk its legitimacy in the Arab world just to stave off the inevitable.
Above all, Khamenei fears a repeat of the protests that followed the 2009 presidential elections. The radicalization of the youth and the chants of "down with the supreme leader" will surely leave Khamenei trembling. He fears popular calls for regime change and an increasingly organized opposition. It comes as no surprise that the regime's biggest fear is the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its charismatic leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.
Mrs Rajavi's proposals for a democratic, secular, non-nuclear republic in Iran (http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/ten-point-plan) with an end to the current and futile open-ended negotiations and appeasement but, at the same time, rejecting any foreign intervention or military action, offers the West and the region a structured way forward and the opportunity to avoid the chaos that besets Syria.
Last summer, some 100,000 Iranians attended a global gathering in Paris to echo the demands for change. They were joined by a broad coalition of political and senior ex-military personalities from the United States, Europe and the Middle East. The gathering showcased the broad support for, and legitimacy of, the opposition and its vision for the future of Iran.
In recent weeks, supporters of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the pivotal force in the NCRI, have stepped up activities throughout Iran propagating regime change as the ultimate vote of Iranians. Despite a widespread crackdown, graffiti and posters denouncing the sham elections and the regime have appeared in the streets of Tehran and other cities.
As Khamenei scrambles to find temporary solutions to keep his sinking ship afloat, the Iranian people and their Resistance move closer to achieving their dreams of a new Iran. The time is come when the world community needs to cast aside false hopes of dialogue with the mullahs and should give tangible moral and diplomatic support to the Iranian people and the NCRI to replace this regime and to make Iran a better place.
This article first appeared in The Huffington Post - UK Edition