The presidential election in Iran is just around the corner, set for June 17, 2005. Naturally the event stirs a lot of excitement and there is a lot of talk about whom to vote for, and also a lot about whether to vote at all. The experience of the last eight years has produced different attitudes among those who voted President Khatami into office twice, hoping to make his reformist agenda into reality. That enthusiasm has since quenched due to the dithering of the so-called reform project. The last two rounds of elections (the 2004 parliamentary elections, and the 2003 city elections) saw a drastic drop in the turn-out and a reversal of the outcome, with conservatives winning both. Now some argue that, a revolutionary plan being ruled out for all sorts of reasons, the best and only way to continue with the reforms is to go back to the ballot boxes. But is that really the issue?
The real problem with the failing reform project has not been a dwindling public participation, but a muddy list if demands and a non-existence program to carry them through. If the situation is not remedied, it is irrelevant whether to vote or whom to vote for. Is it clear what the reformists, as a political denomination, want? Is it more social and political freedoms? If so, how are they going to be implemented? What would be the role of religion in deciding what freedoms to give? Or is it a change in the role of the Supreme Leader? Or the judiciary system? Or perhaps it is the creation of jobs? How about fixing the role of women in society? What are the priorities? Given the certain fierce opposition from the conservatives who now also control the Majlis (the equivalent of the parliament, officially: Islamic Consultative Assembly) to any such change, what are the strategies and tactics that are going to be used to push through with those demands?
I am not against voting, but I am not for it either. I don't think that's the issue. The issue is what to vote for. Without an intensive and relentless debate on these questions, it will be of no use whatsoever who will be elected to the office from the reformist camp—the old problems will surely show up again, and the hapless new president will be as resourceless and unprepared as the old one. It is not sensible to tone down the demands, as some suggest (one of the more recent attitudes, a sort of defense mechanism, arising after the disappointing decline of the Khatami vibe, not to get upset when the `high and tall' demands are not met by the elected president), but to make them loud and clear in the first place.
If it is not clear what we are voting for, it is more beneficial not to vote at all, at least to deprive the conservative spin-masters of a good source of propaganda.