Karim Sadjadpour offers an analysis of the 2009 Iran presidential election in the context of recent U.S. presidential elections, "however incongruous the comparison."
Americans can be forgiven for being a bit confused about the upcoming Iranian elections. While four years ago Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iran a "totalitarian" state, today some media outlets are touting Mir Hossein Mousavi -- incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's strongest challenger -- as Iran's Barack Obama. Though Iranian politics are wholly unique, analyzing these elections in an American political context -- however incongruous the comparison -- may offer some clarity.
Despite the Iranian president's high profile both domestically and internationally, his power is more akin to an influential U.S. vice president (a recent one comes to mind) who chooses important cabinet positions and helps sets the tone on economic and foreign policy. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- unelected by the people -- has constitutional authority over the main levers of state (including the military, judiciary, and media) and will continue to have the last word on major issues such as the nuclear portfolio and policy toward the United States.