After recent elections which once again appeared a laughable attempt at a fair democratic vote, David Jones writes that is it time for the West to end its support for Iran's hardliners from whom tangible reform should not be expected.

Each Iranian election for the past 42 years has been a travesty of the democratic process, serving mainly to install those figures who have received the approval of an unelected supreme leader. For as long as Ali Khamenei has held that office, he has had the final say on all such matters and has controlled the institution tasked with vetting political candidates and legislation.

But in the run-up to last month's presidential election, that body and Khamenei himself wielded their power with an even heavier hand than usual, signalling that this year is different from others. The West should therefore be paying special attention. So far, judging by the almost universal condemnation of the 'victor' Ebrahim Raisi, dubbed the "Butcher of Tehran" in much media coverage, the penny is starting to drop.

The election came in the wake of uprisings that shook the regime to its core and manifested the popular desire for regime change. In December 2017, Iranians took to the streets, chanting: "Hardliners, reformers: this game is over," condemning both factions of the regime and thus the regime as a whole.

In November 2019, that message spread to nearly 200 cities, delivered by the army of the poor and destitute. The strength and coordination of the protests caused panic among the Iranian authorities, who ordered troops to open fire on the crowds, killing some 1,500 people. As the election neared, there were daily protests in virtually every sector of society and many parts of the country. The Iranian economy is bankrupt and the regime is isolated, regionally and internationally. Amid these crises, a very potent, organised opposition has become more active, vocal and visible inside Iran.

In the face of these developments, Khamenei felt he had no choice but to consolidate power, and the Guardian Council helped him to turn the election into a one-man show for his preferred candidate, Ebrahim Raisi. It was no surprise that he proved the 'winner'.

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Raisi stepped into Iran's political scene after the 1979 revolution as an apologist for Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1980, he was assigned to the regime's judiciary as the Deputy Prosecutor of Karaj and rose through the ranks over the following four decades. His time in office has coincided with the widespread suppression of dissent and the exertions of democracy and human rights activists.

Amnesty International has compiled evidence of the involvement of Raisi, among others, in the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions known as the 1988 massacre, in which 30,000 political prisoners, mainly activists of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were killed over the course of a few months after being found guilty of "enmity against God" in perfunctory legal processes.

Iran in 2021 is on the threshold of radical transformation.

As the Western world, including the UK, seeks to address the threat of Iran's nuclear programme and its disruptive conduct in the region, it should become increasingly clear that ongoing domestic developments have substantial implications for everything that pertains to Iran policy. It should also be clear that it is a counterproductive folly to place any trust in the illusion of moderation and reform coming from within what is in reality a medieval theocracy.

As the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Mrs Maryam Rajavi, has underlined, there is no longer any credible excuse to seek to appease or engage with the Iranian regime.

The time has come for the West to end appeasement of Tehran and adopt a firm approach. The West should press for those who have governed Iran for the last 40 years – including Raisi – to be held to account for the privations that have been inflicted on the Iranian people. These vital messages will be reinforced in just over a week when the Free Iran Summit – to be attended mainly virtually by thousands of dissident Iranian exiles from all over the world and Western politicians – is held in Albania.

This will be the morally just course. It will put the West on the right side of history: The side of the Iranian people and their quest for freedom and democracy.

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