The Chicago Tribune notes that the extremely harsh winter that has gripped Iran this year should cause Iran's rulers real trouble in the upcoming elections – if only the elections were free and fair. Unfortunately, the elections are neither and the mullahs have stripped reform-minded candidates from the ballots. Nonetheless, Iran is starting to feel the pressure of monumental mismanagement – and a brutal winter.
If the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran were open and democratic, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling mullahs would have a lot to worry about. How would you like your allies to face an electorate when, in one of the coldest winters in recent memory, the government has left thousands of people for days or even weeks with no natural gas for heat? When even those in Tehran have suffered rolling blackouts every night for a month, robbing people of electricity and heat for hours at a time? And all this while the country's major export — oil — is at nearly $100 a barrel?
That kind of breathtaking economic blundering usually costs politicians their jobs. But probably not in Iran. Not in a place where the mullahs can easily toss most reform-minded candidates off the ballot, as they have again this year.
If anything, the state is tightening its grip. One sign: In the midst of an icy winter, women reportedly have been arrested for straying from the edicts of the Islamic fashion police — wearing hats over head scarves, for example, or boots over pants.
Whatever the vote this spring, it is clear that Iran's economy is faltering. It is failing despite billions upon billions in oil revenues. It is floundering because of a sclerotic, command-and-control system. It is failing, thanks to a hard nudge from two rounds of UN Security Council sanctions and an array of U.S.-led economic measures that have dried up foreign investment and shooed away international banks. A third round of sanctions is in the works and could be passed soon. And after that, we hope, a fourth and a fifth, if the Iranians continue to refuse to suspend their nuclear-enrichment program.
The best the west can hope for, at least for now, is increasing internal pressure on the mullahs to finally force some changes. The sanctions are too weak and are not forcing change quickly enough. But old man winter might accomplish what the UN cannot. We can hope.