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February 20, 2004

Historic Epic, Elections, Referendum, Masquerade of Democracy, Whatever!
Arash Jalali  [info|posts]

hand casting a ballot Today was the day the people of Iran were supposed to elect their representatives in the Islamic Parliament. For reasons many of you may already know (e.g. see When MPs Find Their Balls and They Deserve It!), this might prove to be the most questionable election ever held in the history of the Islamic Republic.

For those of you who have not been following the news lately, here is a recap of what happened during the past few months.

Latest Update:
Feb. 23, 23:00 (Local Time); Fatemeh Haghighatjoo's resignation was accepted. She was one of the disqualfied "reformist" candidates.
According to the BBC radio (Farsi service), the Ministry Of Interior (MOI) has announced that the number of votes cast in some cities including Semirome (a small town in the province of Isfahan) is more than the total number of eligible voters! (I could not find any mention of this in the MOI website though.)

Feb 22, 18:45 (Local Time); According to the state-controlled radio, a total number of 294,151 ballots cast in 792 ballot boxes (close to 25% of the total number of boxes) have been counted in the Tehran district, which includes the capital city, and three other nearby towns. Ten candidates in this district are said to have already acquired enough votes to enter the parliament. This includes Haddad-Adel (the supreme leader's darling) , Tavakoli (also a two-time runner for presindential elections), and Amir Khadem (the former wrestling champion whose brother also managed to get into Tehran's city council due to the extremely low voter turn-out in those elections).
Karoubi's name is no longer among the top 30.

Feb 21, 22:28 (Local Time); Baztab, a Persian website said to be owned by Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of the expediency council (headed by the former president Hashemi-Rafsanjani) claims that the total number of participants in the elections is estimated to be around 24.5 million.
Tehran's votes are still being counted, but the name of the front-runners have been released. Haddad-Adel, whose daughter is the supreme leader's daughter-in-law, the same guy who was practically shoved into the previous parliament by the Guradian Council, is now the top winner in Tehran. Karoubi is said to be hovering around the 30th position.

Feb 21, 12:00 (Local Time); According to the Iranian state-controlled radio, about 8.9 million votes have so far been counted. These are the votes of 114 electoral districts. Fourteen of these should hold a second round of elections. It is important to note that these numbers do not include votes cast in Tehran.

Feb 21, 09:55 (Local Time); According to the Islamic Rebulic News Agency (IRNA) the votes cast in 57 electoral districts have been counted. The candidates in 52 districts have acquired enough votes to enter the parliament. Four Five districts must hold a second round of elections. I was not able to find any official comments on what has happened to the remaining one district.
There was a mistake on IRNA's site. In their detailed list, there are five districts that should hold a second round.

Feb 21, 00:05 (Local Time); After extending the deadline twice, the voting was finally closed at 10PM Feb. 20. Counting has already started.


A few months ago, the Council of Guardians, composed of twelve non-elected members, disqualified more than 4,000 of the so-called reformist candidates, including the president's brother [who is the leader of the largest reformist party in the current parliament], barring them from running for the seventh Islamic parliament. Initially, the so-called reformists were (or at least pretended to be) dismissive of the importance of this move by the council, marking it as just another desperate measure taken by the hard-liners, trying to use it as a bargaining chip in the up-coming elections.

People's Apathy

Having given up on the so call "reform front," the public showed little interest on what was happening. One should only compare the reaction of the students with the 1999 student uprisings that were merely triggered by closing down of one single "reformist" newspaper to know that this time, the public could not care less about who will take the seats of the seventh parliament.

The all too late sit-in

Realizing that the election is just a few weeks away, and witnessing the public's lack of interest in their political fate, the "reformists" did what they should have done a couple of years ago. Many of the pro-reform parliamentarians seriously protested against the massive disqualifications in the form of a sit-in and fasting, probably hoping to trigger some public protests. The move was shrugged off by many people as too little and too late to deserve any public support. Some skeptics even dismissed the whole thing as being a lame charade played by the regime to stimulate people's interest in the upcoming elections and creating a high voter turn-out which could then be interpreted as the regime's popularity and legitimacy.


As many could predict, the sit-in did nothing that could either stimulate people's interest or budge the hard-liners from their position. Feeling trapped in their own ridiculous sit-in, they could neither end the sit-in prematurely nor could they wait and waste valuable time while the hard-liners were already putting the champaign on ice for their victory celebrations, so to speak. Therefore, they decided to play the old card president Khatami once tried to play a couple of years ago and embarrassingly failed, i.e. resignation. For a few days resignation was the word of the day. Everyone in the so-called reformist camp, from the MP's in sit-in, to deputy ministers, to provincial governors threatened to resign. The interesting point to note was that the same people virtually did not breathe a word after the supreme leader told them to shut up when they were planning to change the press law.

While busy making empty threats of resignation, the "reformists" once again made what could be called their last mistake, namely, to leave the job of lobbying and bargaining to the most two ineffectual delegates: president Khatami, and the unsuspecting, ambivalent, double-crossing head of the parliament, Mehdi Karroubi. The two delegates approached the supreme leader on several occasions trying to beg mercy for their fellow reformers.

Finally, the leader did what he does best. He held a separate public meeting with each side of the conflict telling each one what they wanted to hear. He gave the Guardian Council a mild slap on the hand and at the same time a warm pat on the back, telling them to review the candidates' cases but urging them "not give in to any bullying". The guardian council qualified a small number of the disqualified, simply citing the reason for their qualification as "based on executive orders", and instead disqualifying a number of other people who had been qualified before.

The silence of the lambs

After the second round of disqualifications, the president said he will not allow for such unfair elections to be held on Feb. 20; the MP's said they would resign one by one (they couldn't do it all together because technically the resignation of an MP should be approved by the rest of the parliament members). Again as usual, this all was proven to be a whole bunch of hot air, as the supreme leader said the election date must not be deferred, and issued a religious decree that any resignation is banned. The justice department immediately issued a statement that it would prosecute and punish to the fullest extent anyone who breaks the law.

The so-called reformists were once again silenced. There was no resignation. In a ridiculous letter published in many newspapers, the president called on the people to participate in the elections despite having limited choices. Today, he took part in the elections himself and his picture was shown on all IRIB channels while he was casting his ballot.

Final shot in the dead corpse

As if it wasn't enough already, the infamous Saeed Mortazavi, the press court judge, ordered the shutdown of two more pro-reform newspapers on the eve of the elections on the charges that they alluded to a rather harsh letter written to the supreme leader by some of the disqualified MP's . Apparently the person who had issued a ban on publishing that letter was the secretary of the National Security Council, Hassan Rohani. It is interesting to note that the president, who happens to be the head of that council, has denied any knowledge of the ban prior to it being issued. The justice department has also closed down and sealed the headquarters of the Participation party (headed by the president's brother). Some websites, including that of the participation party are also reported to have been filtered in Iran.

The supreme recipe

Having gotten rid of the so-called reformists in the most vulgar way possible, there was only one more minor concern: the voter turn-out. In a public speech, the supreme leader said that since we have about 46 million eligible voters throughout the country, the "ever present people" should demonstrate a massive turn-out to bring the number of cast ballots to no less than 40 million. One official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was also quoted to have suggested that the Basiji's (the Islamic paramilitary vigilantes) should help bring the number to 50 million.

The new face of the "ever present people"

IRIB, the state controlled television, started a huge campaign days ago to portray not only the public's discontent with the current parliament, but also a massive vow of participation by the public, citing it as everyone's religious and national duty to vote. One notable difference in the way the "spontaneous" interviews were conducted this year, was that the majority of the interviewees looked quite different from the typical pro-regime individual. No beards, no dirty hear, no disgusting looks; mostly young men wearing jeans and following the latest teenage hairstyle in town!

Today, they constantly showed scenes of people lining up in very long queues just to cast their ballots. Almost all five channels were dedicated to covering the elections this morning. Even the people's favorite football narrator was on duty today to cover the elections and ask people why they have decided to vote; and the answer among other things was of course "to throw a big punch at America's face".

Iran4dummies at February 20, 2004 07:25 PM [permalink]:

People were tricked, they are playing with us, rainbow is the goal

yahya at February 20, 2004 07:54 PM [permalink]:

It is unfortunate that it has been so much emphasis by Iranian opposition groups on bycotting the election.

To prove that this government is illegitimate, the participation level in an election can be of very little help. Under a despotic regime, people have to go to vote for a number of reasons ranging from intimidation to receiving benefits. For example, a gossip was spread in Iran that youth who would't have the stamp proof of voting in their national ID would be prevented from enrolling in universities (government later denied it but the damage was already done). Also, there are reports that soldiers are given a day off if they come back with their ID stampted to prove their voting). Also in many cases, people who vote do so mostly to choose between bad and worse.

This regime is illegitimate because of its undemocratic foundation and its gross violations of human rights to keep itself in power. The level of participation of people is not going to change any of that.

Iranians who want to bring change to Iran should give up their fixation on elections and should come up with practical solutions for people on how to challenge the system without risking too much on their life.

challenger at February 20, 2004 09:31 PM [permalink]:

Many problems discussed here are "media" problems. Maybe people are over-influenced by IRIB. In Italy and Russia there is concern leaders have too much control over TV.

I had a conversation once with a UT economics professor about democracy in Iran. He said the people are easily fooled by extravagant promises and a free press could fix this. So yahya in the two hours you have before you next post can you think of a practical solution for people to challenge, for example, the closing of newspapers?

If enough people want democracy badly enough, they can have it and no-one can take it away.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at February 21, 2004 04:45 PM [permalink]:
Thanks for the great article Arash and your courage ofr writing it. Some points: It is becoming more clear by the minute why the 'reformists' (my foot!) decided to resign. Reading many news reports on the recent issues people's boycotting is being attributed to them and no one seems to remember the tehran municipal election last year. Unfortunately for them, such circus acts is not gonna help them in the long run. Contrary to what the Challenger says, the TV in Iran has ZERO-NULL-NIHIL influence on what the people think or do. NOBODY gives a damn what IRIB syas or promotes. That's why they have to use 'proffesional' voters several times and do all sorts of cheating to give the pretext of having more than 40% turnout. Which brings me to the international coverage. As Yahya pointed out in his article, some of the coverage was SHAMEFUL. Look at this, for example: "...The reformers' predictions of a nationwide turnout of 40 percent or less appeared to have been dashed. Conservatives had forecast up to 60 percent but were quick to note that about 50 percent would be comparable to U.S. presidential elections...." "...Reuters correspondents around Tehran said many voters went to the polls clutching the candidate list of the main conservative Alliance for the Advancement of Islamic Iran, which opposed Khatami's policy of allowing greater political, media and cultural freedoms..." This is of course al-Reuters' way of reporting, the same Reuters that still wrtites "terrorist" (in scare-quotes) when refering to Hizballah or Hamas, as though considering them terrorists is just some people's not really reliable opinion. (Looking at Reuters and BBC for example, and calibrating them to the open western environment in which they have to keep face somewhat, one can easily compare them to Kehan and IRIB calibrated to the situation in Iran. And of course who can forget BBC persian Radio acting as Khomeini's propaganda mouthpiece proir and during the revolution. SHAMEFUL!) Here is also what our Arab moslem brethren think: Arab News: "[A]n election win is an election win. It does not really matter how many people bothered to vote. It does not matter how thin the winning margin for the Iranian conservatives. Turnout in European elections has been falling steadily in almost every country over the last 20 years. George W. Bush won the White House on a wafer-thin ó and indeed dubious ó margin. Nobody questions the legitimacy of European governments. No one now seriously argues that George Bush should be removed from the Oval Office. No Western power is therefore going to dare condemn even the narrowest or lowest turnout wins by Iranís conservatives. Whatever moral victory the opposition might claim will be negated by political realities. Iranís conservative rulers should also be given some credit for political savvy." (From Allah) How glorious is this moslem brotherhood. We have to wait and see whether the "reformists" will go through with their 'resignation' or not. It is obvious that any among them that is hoping for gaining any kind of support in the future must become much more radical and distance himself from the 'reform'. But let's also let's look at the bright side. This circus is over. From now on they have to do what they have been doing without the pretext of an 'inetrnal dispute'. The EU and anyone lese who wants to plunder must pay the price of openly supporting these animals from now on. And the battle now is for the collaps of the ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]