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May 28, 2005

By the Thousand
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

pascal.gif In the current presidential election in Iran 1014 people registered as candidates. 1008 were disqualifies initially by the Council of Gaurdians; 2 were re-qualified in a row over the consequences of their disqualification. A simple question arises naturally: Why so many? Apparantly something's wrong somewhere.

The hard-line Council of Gaurdians who are happy to slash anyone not strongly enough aligned with their politics and religious guidelines, the two tightly knit in the Islamic Republic (IR), without accepting any sort of public scrutiny of their processes naturally would argue that the constitutional qualifications for candidacy are at fault. In fact Jannati, the well-known hardliner and the Secretary of the Council, said so yesterday in the Friday prayers (another religious act turned political in the IR). But this is, as I see it, just a new front in the attack against people's freedoms and completely beside the point. The real reason so many people show up for registeration including, allegedly, many who may not even be at a literacy level to read and write, is the political system not the law per se.

Here is the constitutional article in the constitution of the IR pertaining to the qualifications of a candidate for presidency:

Article 115 — The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities possessing the following qualifications: Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety; convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.
In fact, except age restrictions (ranging up to 40 years old), most democratic republics do not have a more detailed set of conditions for qualification of candidates than Iran has1.

The argument for blaming the recent phenomenon of mass registeration by apparantly unqualified people on the constitutional qualifications is simply wrong: there is no logical connection between the actual set of qualifiations adopted and the number of people who register. For one thing, it is not true that all the registrants were obviously unqualified from the start; many conventional "politicians" registered too. What is that to be blamed on? For another, what set of conditions is supposed to prevent such outpours when the current strict set does not? The missing link is not the set of qualifications, but the mechanisms through which these qualifications find their proper meaning in the political system in particular and in the society in general.

So, what is at fault is the amorphous nature of the political game in Iran. The mechanisms of an effective democratic process in Iran's politics are lacking and, even worse, blocked by the hard-liners. This has led to the dispersion of the existing political forces. Moreover it has prevented arising ones from formation. The current state is one in which proper means of funnelling economical, political and social demands through the political system have been destroyed, badly damaged, or vehemently resisted. The result: a lot of people who are grieved by their conditions for one reason or another think they should take matters in their own hands. This is also the case, to some worrying extent, for the active political groups and parties, even the reformists.

Of course, this does not mean that the constitutional qualifications are not the source of any problem. They are too broad and very ambiguous. What does it really mean to be "trustworthy" or "resourceful"? This vague wording has been the major justification for the vetting powers of the Council of Gaurdians. But it is meaningless to change them in any way just to hide the symptoms of a disease that is created and continued by the enemies of freedom and democracy. Certainly not by the staunchest of them all, the Council of Gaurdians.

[1] For instance see the rather old and incomprehensive, but detailed database of Country Studies.
Arash Jalali at May 29, 2005 05:56 PM [permalink]:

I think the translation that the "Chamber of Iran" people have provided for article 115 is not accurate. Article 115 is ambiguous on whether women are qualified to run for president or not. So I guess it would be more appropriate if one preserves this ambiguity in the English translation by using "statesman" instead of "political personality". The word used in the original Farsi text is "Rejaal-eh Syaasi".

Also, I disagree with you, Babak, when you wrote that the reason for the rather high number of registrants is the political system. I think the fact that people (some almost totally illiterate, and some evidently nut cases) came to register is because the law allowed them to. I suspect that if the procedure for becomming a presidential candidate had been like this in the U.S., you would probably witness the same thing there too. In fact, on a smaller scale, we witnessed a rather similar situation in the California's gubernatorial elections. Do you remember the porn star, with a half naked picture on her campaign billboard?

Knight at May 30, 2005 03:20 AM [permalink]:

I found it positive that so many people registered as presidential candidates. At least they brought some enthusiasm to the table. Plus being illiterate may be bad but it's much better than being a murdurer like Rafsanjani. I think picking a random one among those thousand candidates is a better bet than any of the qualified six, maybe except Moeen.

sadaf at May 31, 2005 08:25 PM [permalink]:

the reason why so many people even registered was because they were allowed to. as a rule of thumb in Iran, you don't have to be educated or from good morale or any other of these criteria to qualify for presidency. you only have to know the game, so why do you think those people that registered could have been disqualified???? why not qualified??

Babak S at June 1, 2005 02:09 AM [permalink]:

Arash and sadaf: You have both written that you think so many people registered since they were "allowed to" (by law), but neither of you have provided a reasoning for this statement. Here's why I think this staement is incorrect if you forgive some repetition of what I has written earlier.

I cannot understand what you mean by this usage of the verb "allow." It's either of the two things:

1- They were "allowed," in the sense that they were allowed entry to the registeration site and were allowed to fill out the registeration forms. Given that they could not know at the time if they would be qualified, this was just like filling out an application form. But this is absurd. what kind of law can one enact to "disallow" even this? So it must be the follwing.

2- They were "allowed," in the sense that the legal qualifications were not tough enough to exclude the possibility of their registeration. But this is also wrong. Apparantly even in the current situation these people didn't satisfy the current qualifications (which I emphasize are by no means light) because they were disqualified en mass. So evidently "they were not allowed" by the law since they were rejected by the interpreter of that law!

Furthermore, if we take your statement in this sense to its logical conclusion, it means that if for instance the law made it mandatory for the candidates, say, to be above a certain age, or have certain educational degree, a fewer people would have showed up. But why is that? What results in the smaller number? A smaller sample space? But surely the sample space is big enough (and should be if "electing" is to mean anything at all) to make this incorrect.

In short, whatever the qualifications prescribed by the law, there are always some who "think" they meet all of them, whatever the reason. This was also the case for all of those 1014 people who registered. What really brings down the number of people who register is the meaning the act of registering is given through the mechanisms of the political system, as I wrote.

Babak S at June 1, 2005 02:29 AM [permalink]:

A clarification: I don't think a high number of registerants is necessarily a bad thing. As Knight said it can boost or bring in enthusiasm. Surely an election with just one (to take the extreme) is not considered fair and representative. But there's a limit to this enthusiasm, and that is set by the number of irreducibly differing views in the society so that each one must have a representative of its own. 1014 is well beyond that limit.

As it usually happens in a democratic society, the political mechanisms set the number of contenders below such a limit well before they go to register. The details are many, varied and boring perhaps — the upshot is that the irreduciblly different views, through these mechanisms, meaningfully find their representatives. Then they register. So the actual registerarion takes place well before the formal one.

Arash Jalali at June 1, 2005 04:28 PM [permalink]:

Ok Babak I got your point. So just to make sure I understood your argument, in short, you are saying that whatever criteria the verb "allow" entails, there are always large enough people to fit those criteria, and there are also large enough people to come forward to register. And from this, you infer that the unusually high registrant turn out is not because the entry criteria are too permissive, but because there is this huge hole in our political system left by the lack of mechanisms (such as political parties) that could help make these at least 1014 differing (if not diagonally opposing) views converge.

However, I think you are overlooking certain facts:
1- We are not talking about a uniform "sample space" here. Some 250 of the registrant did not even have a highschool diploma. I hope you agree that a smaller sample space, provided that the restricting contraint is chosen properly, would not result in the same expected value for number of registrants.

2- If you look at the statistics on the number of candidates in the past eight presidential elections, you would see that during the first election (after the 1979 revolution) there were more than one hundred running candidates while in the second term, there were only four. Yes, it might sound comical, but I actually think that the reason why so many people did not register say 12 years ago was that many of those people were not "allowed", or better to say dare, to enter the premises of the interior ministry! Surely you don't mean to say that 12 years ago, during the Rafsanjani era, the political system was more equipped with the mechanisms to converge people's differing ideas and bring them under a more reasonable number of political fronts!

3- I think you are taking two different meanings of the word "qualified" as interchangeable here. As far as the Islamic regime is concerned, we have people who are qualified (allowed?) to register, and there are also people who are qualified (allowed?) to potentially become presidents. The latter being a subset of the former. As far as the interior ministery is concerned, any Iranian-born citizen can register, while as far as the "Council of Watchdogs" is concerned, well, they even rejected one of their own, who in fact had been qualified in the previous elections!

I of course did not mention the above technicalities to voice disagreement with the gist of your argument, as I too agree that due to the virtual non-existence of any party system, such abnormal outcomes and turn outs are bound to happen.

LEROY at April 27, 2006 03:44 PM [permalink]:

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