Friday November 9, 2012

BALI, Indonesia -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ridiculed the expense of the U.S. election, mocking it as a "battleground for capitalists" while speaking at a democracy forum.

Ahmadinejad’s own government has been criticized for human rights abuses and sanctioned for pursuing a nuclear program many suspect is aimed at obtaining weapons. A day after Americans re-elected President Barack Obama, the Iranian president told the forum in Indonesia that democracy has become a system where the minority rules over the majority.

"Just take a look at the situation in Europe and the U.S.," Ahmadinejad said as the forum opened Thursday on the resort island of Bali. An "election, which is one of the manifestations of the people’s will, has become a battleground for the capitalists and an excuse for hasty spending."

Spending on the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign was the highest ever, soaring beyond $2 billion as independent fundraising groups financed advertising to promote their favored candidates.

Ahmadinejad’s criticism contrasted with other gathered leaders’ calls for more democracy and freedoms for citizens around the world.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said mutual respect and diversity are the foundations of democracy.

"We need to encourage greater respect for different values, faiths and religious beliefs," Yudhoyono said. "We should not allow irresponsible acts such as the defamation of religion to divide us."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak praised Indonesia as a Muslim nation with a thriving democracy and added that Myanmar’s positive political reforms were encouraging. But he said more work needed to be done elsewhere.

"Unfortunately, we also saw how a 15-year-old Pakistani girl was shot as she promoted women’s rights in her country," he said.

"Likewise, since 2003, the North Korean people can see but cannot speak, they have legs but cannot move. Human rights cannot be compromised there," he added.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are among other leaders at the fifth Bali Democracy Forum.

Dinna Wisnu, an international political analyst from Indonesia’s Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, said Ahmadinejad is likely attending the event to try to find a place to fit in. And even if some Asian countries are not welcoming, the region as a whole is typically more accepting.

"Iran comes with its special agenda that has been planned as the country does not have a lot of friends in the Middle East," she said. "They are in a difficult position. If they are not trying to make friends in other regions, Iran will be alone."

Ahmadinejad also called for U.S. military bases to be dismantled worldwide and said the winner of the U.S. election made no difference to him.

"Coming or going, winning or losing is not important," he told reporters. "The important thing is the policy and behavior. And this behavior must be changed."

Iran has repeatedly said its uranium enrichment program is meant only for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. and European Union have hit Iran hard with economic sanctions out of concerns otherwise.

"The IAEA has inspected our nuclear facilities and 10 officials have reported that there is no indication that (the) Iran nuclear program has directed to non-peaceful purposes," Ahmadinejad said.

Iran has long been criticized for its human rights record, including the continued use of stoning as a method of capital punishment. Increased Internet crackdowns and the jailing of political prisoners and journalists were recently highlighted in a U.N. rights report.

The country erupted into violence three years ago when pro-democracy protesters took to the streets to oppose the election of Ahmadinejad, calling it bogus and rigged.