The presidential election in Iran held on June 12 has deeply divided the Iranian people and the leadership, and plunged the country into an unprecedented political crisis. The official result declaring President Ahmadinejad as the winner by a margin of 11 million votes out of 39 million votes cast has been hotly contested by other three candidates, especially by the second runner, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who got 13.2 million votes (34 percent) as against 24 million votes (63 percent) cast for Ahmadinejad. According to the official results, the voter turnout was a record 85 percent of the electorate estimated to be 46 million. While making allegations of gross irregularities in the conduct of the election, Mir Mousavi has demanded its annulment and re-polling. His supporters have held demonstrations in Tehran and other cities attracting large crowds. The government attempts to suppress the demonstrations by force led to the death of 19 persons by June 20. The way Iran deals with this crisis will determine the future direction of its internal and external policies. The Guardian Council, in an effort to calm down the situation, has offered to recount 10 percent of the vote boxes selected randomly in the presence of the representatives of the three candidates. However, this offer has been rejected by Mir Mousavi who has reiterated that nothing less than the annulment of the vote and re-polling would satisfy him. The Iranian authorities have also imposed severe restrictions on reporting by the foreign media. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Friday sermon on June 19 called for an end to mass street protests and for calm in the country. He said that any election complaints should be raised through legal channels. Dismissing charges of electoral fraud, he said that the election had been fairly won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He warned: "If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible." He also blamed foreign powers, who had questioned the results of the election, of interference in Iran's internal affairs and of an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Iranian establishment. Significantly the mass protests have continued although with dwindling numbers, despite the warning by Ayatollah Khamenei. The street protests on June 20 alone led to the killing of 10 persons. Several Iranian political and religious leaders have opposed the demand for ending the protests. Former President Khatami, a Mousavi ally, said in a statement: "Preventing people from expressing their demands through civil ways will have dangerous consequences (for the country)." The most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, added his voice to the criticism of the leadership by calling for three days of mourning for those killed. Even a conservative leader like Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Majlis, has blamed the interior minister for the attacks on civilians and university students. Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is considered a pillar of the current Islamic system in Iran, in a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader before the election complained about not being allowed to respond on the state media to allegations of money making made against him and his family by President Ahmadinejad. He has also reportedly thrown his weight behind the mass protests against the alleged electoral rigging. Considering that Rafsanjani heads powerful bodies like the Expediency Council, which mediates between the Guardian Council and the Majlis over differences relating to bills passed by the latter, and the Assembly of Experts, which has the authority to appoint and dismiss the Supreme Leader, his views cannot be dismissed lightly in any analysis of the current disturbed situation in Iran. Western powers generally have reacted predictably by criticising the attempts by the Iranian authorities to suppress the mass protests through the use of force. A European Union Summit called on Iran not to use violence against peaceful demonstrators. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the repression of opponents was closing off dialogue and would not help. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said bluntly that there was fraud in the election. In his initial comments, US President Obama expressed concern over the conduct of the election but said that he would not meddle in the internal affairs of Iran. In a later statement, President Obama urged Tehran to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people." German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Iranian leadership to allow peaceful protests and conduct a recount of the votes cast in the election. President Ahmadinejad in response accused foreign powers, especially the US and Britain, of interfering in Iran's internal affairs. The mass protests in Iran against the announced results of the presidential election are the latest manifestation of the intense struggle which has been going on for a number of years now between the reformists or moderates and the conservatives or hardliners. The conservatives including Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, most of the members of the Guardian Council, IRGC, the majority of the membership of the Majlis, the judiciary and law enforcement authorities believe in a strict interpretation of the doctrine of Velayat-e-Faqih on which the current Iranian constitution and political system are based. Under this system, the representative institutions operate under the tutelage of religious bodies and personalities. At the pinnacle of this system is the Supreme Leader who has over-riding powers in legislative, executive, judicial and security affairs. The reformists or the moderates, on the other hand, would like the representative institutions like the Majlis to exercise enhanced authority and the religious bodies to abstain from interference in their affairs. The reformists support greater personal freedoms than what is currently allowed under the Iranian laws and rules, economic reforms to improve economic efficiency and end corruption, and a foreign policy which is pragmatic rather than one which is governed by ideological considerations. The success of a reformist candidate in the presidential election would, therefore, have heralded definite changes in Iran's internal and external policies both in substance and tone. However, the reforms or changes would have come about in a slow and gradual fashion because the conservatives are well entrenched in various centres of power as shown by the earlier experience of Khatami's presidency. Although the majority of the reformists perhaps would profess loyalty to the doctrine of Velayat-e-Faqih, there are some elements amongst them who would totally discard it as being anachronistic to democratic principles. So the real struggle in Iran is not just between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi although their personal roles cannot be ignored altogether. Many moderates or reformists in Iran believe that Ahmadinejad's doctrinaire and outspoken statements on sensitive foreign policy issues have proved to be counterproductive from Iran's point of view. Their supporters, particularly the youth who constitute about 60 percent of the Iranian population, are also unhappy because of the high rates of unemployment and inflation from which the Iranian economy has been suffering under President Ahmadinejad. Corruption in the Iranian body politic is another source of dissatisfaction among the Iranian voters. It is extremely difficult at this stage to predict accurately the future course of events in Iran except to say that the struggle between the conservatives and the reformists will continue for quite some time to come. In view of the overwhelming power in the hands of the conservatives, the Iranian authorities will most probably succeed in quelling the disturbances and restoring calm in the country. However, this calm would be an uneasy one waiting for another event to disrupt it until and unless the Iranian people are able to find a synthesis between their democratic inclinations and religious traditions, which suits their genius. The writer served as the Pakistan ambassador to Iran (1997 to 2003) E-mail: