If Iran ever held a truly free election, that country's supreme leader, his appointed Guardian Council and their coterie of corrupt clerics would be swept from office.
The Iranian people know that, we know that, the Europeans know that, and so do the hard-line clerics. The clerics hit upon the obvious solution.
They guaranteed that there would not be a repeat of the 2000 election, when moderates took control of the parliament, by the simple expedient of banning 2,400 moderates, including about 80 sitting members of parliament, from last Friday's election. To be on the safe side, the clerics shuttered two popular newspapers that supported the moderates.
The conservatives, with no opponents, easily retook control of the parliament. It requires no great stretch of the imagination to see that next they will go after Iran's popular but ineffectual reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, when he comes up for re-election next year.
Khatami stunned the hard-liners when he overwhelmingly won election in 1997 and was easily re-elected in 2001. Like with the parliament, the hard-liners aren't about to let that happen again.
All of this is a dismaying setback for the Iranian people, who would like to see their country free of the repressive hand of clerical rule. However, time is not on the clerics' side, as a restive youthful nation with no memory of the 1979 revolution chafes at the lack of opportunity, jobs and social freedoms.
Meanwhile, the government of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is racking up a shameless record of duplicity about the extent and nature of Iran's nuclear program. Why the clerics think possession of a nuclear device might preserve their rule is a mystery. The threat to them is not from a foreign power but from their own people.
The conservative clerics in control of parliament will now begin agitating for the United States and the European Union to recognize their rule as legitimate.
Nations that believe in democracy and civil liberties should not dignify that claim. If it's legitimacy the clerics crave, let them try to win an honest election, open to all comers and watched over by a free press.