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June 16, 2005

Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

FToI poll on the ninth presidential election in Iran has been open for two weeks, collecting about 135 responses. Taking out the non-Iranian visitors, 42% chose I won't vote whereas 40% chose Moeen. (These numbers are 45% and 42% if we substract further 6 visitors who chose the conservative candidates.) About 9% of the Iranian visitors selected Rafsanjani.

Given the audience of this web site, I think only, if any, the choices of Moeen, Rafsanjani and I don't vote can be of some meaning for the actual election.

I think it is reasonable to think of those who won't vote, as those among reformist voters who will be abstaining from voting on Friday for social reasons. Taking the reformist voters to be around 60% of the electorate based on previous elections, one gets 25% for the "boycott." Add to that the 20% that usually don't vote for personal reasons, and you get a turnout of 55% on Friday.

How many votes would Moeen get? 40% of the reformist votes, that is about 25% of the electorate — a maximum of 40% of the votes cast on Friday.

I think the remaining 20% of the reformist votes, or 12% of the electorate, will be split between Rafsanjani and Karrubi. Rafsanjani will also gain some of the conservative votes, a total of 20% of the electorate. My estimate for Rafsanjani's votes is then a maximum of 30% of the turnout.

The remaining three conservative candidates will share the rest of the votes cast on Friday, capped at 30% of the turnout.

Moeen and Rafsanjani will go for a run-off.

UPDATE: It seems the tide is turning in FToI poll to Moeen against I won't vote. News pieces suggest this may be a reflection of reality as well. We'll see.

SG at June 16, 2005 11:34 AM [permalink]:


I agree with you on your prediction: a run-off.

Here's a (revolutionary?) idea for boycotters:

I think boycotters should all unite (this they say they are capable of, or else their arguments for boycott fall apart) and reach a consensus (preferably BEFORE the election) about what passes for a boycott.

Suppose they all draw a line at 12M, that is, if 12,000,000 Iranians or less vote on Friday, then it is a boycott. Then, if on the day of election, 12,000,001 people or more vote, they should immediately change their course of action, because that would prove that the boycotting idea was not a mature one to begin with.

They should then all bow to the will of Iranian people, join them in the run-off, and work on their idealism for later occasions.

Kaveh Kh at June 16, 2005 12:12 PM [permalink]:

Maybe this is off topic, but whatever:

I understand it totally when Reza Pahlavi supports a boycott in this election but I am utterly surprised to see former participants in the Islamic Republic, many of reformsits call for a boycott.

Regardless of what they reason, it seems that the prominent reformists who call for a boycott are simply waging a factional war...

Babak S at June 16, 2005 01:26 PM [permalink]:


Yes, that is a good idea. But if you are serious about 12M, you must have not looked at the total number of eligible voters (TEV). It is 48M. A 25% turnout is a very strong boycott, which is rather unrealistic and should not be expected to happen in the first stages. Also, the threshold in this case should not be rigid.

I propose 50% turnout as the threshold. This is equal to 24M in this election. Why? Because:

1. It is the lowest turnout in the IRI. When the boycott was a silent show of discontent the turnouts were just slightly above 50%.

2. Symbolicly, it would mean that there are more eligible voters who did not vote than the votes of the winner of the race.

3. Realistically, it means at least about 30% of TEV did "boycott" the elections. That is about 14M in this election. Compare: Most importantly, it would be comparable to the likely votes of the winner, assuming he wins with 60% of the turnout. In absolute numbers: it is equal to the turnout for Rafsanjanji's second term; The increase in TEV since Khatami's first term is 12M, less than the number of "boycotters" (since his second term, it is 6M, even less of course); If we accept the potential reformist voters are the ones who do the boycott, this would mean that in order to claim their 20M votes in the past 8 years, the reformists need to collect more than 80% of the turnout, whose unlikeliness shows that a boycott is really in effect; etc.

An indicator of the success or the strenght of the boycott strategy would be the fall of the turnout below the 50% threshold, starting with "normal." The lower the turnout goes below 50%, the stronger the boycott. If the turnout goes slightly above 50%, we will have a "weak boycott." I'd say somewhere around and below 60% the boycott is non-existent.

SG at June 16, 2005 01:36 PM [permalink]:

Continuing my scattered thoughts...

If I were a self-respecting boycotter with the courage of someone like Kadivar and some integrity and the ability of not deluding myself, then I would write a number, say 12345678, on a piece of paper today.

This would be *my* definition of boycott. This would be the critical number, in my opinion, that would bring about all the good things that I have been arguing all along they would be the effects of a *successful* boycott. For example, that they would cause pressure from the international community to mount and lead to better things for Iran.

Then I will wait a few days. If the number of Iranians showing up at the ballot boxes exeeds 12345678, then I would honestly interpret it as a big NO to my proposed and fought-for boycott. (Remember that a boycott doesn't just take place in our minds.)

Then I would see this higher-than-I-expected turn-out as a clear sign that boycotting have been a misguided strategy. The mass of Iranians will have opted for using this flawed means (voting) to achieve their goals. Again, WHEN A MINORITY "BOYCOTTS", IT IS NOT A BOYCOTT. Just look it up in your dictionary!

Tomorrow, Babak's T-shirt store will either be there or will not, and we will all see it if it's there. If it turns out to be just a mirage, then no sane person should go there to buy a T-shirt.

SG at June 16, 2005 01:45 PM [permalink]:

While I was trying to elaborate on and improve my half-baked idea (by eliminating the "uniting" thing), Babak S has added a comment. In reponse:

12M was just an example. We can argue on end about what constitutes a boycott. There is really no easy way to reach a consensus about this. (Other than voting!) Hence, my previous modification. But in any case I disagree about the non-rigidity of the threshold. We should devise a foolproof way, at least to console our own conscience, to find out whether the stupid cat in the damn steel chamber is alive or dead!

SG at June 16, 2005 01:52 PM [permalink]:

Also, I was listening to the Ganji-Behnoud discussion yesterday (available in BBC Persian site) and I think it was the moderator who suggested the following: Assume there is a low turn-out. Then the US and Britain and other ususal suspects boo Iran. Then Iranian regime asks them: "What percentage of people participate in voting in your so-called democracies?"...

Because of this, and what I (and you) see in the world today, the superpower do not give a damn about how democratically a country is run, as long as they're safe and can get their oil...

someone who is usually silent at June 16, 2005 02:00 PM [permalink]:


Did you also listen to Ganji's reply to your last comment? I think his point is very valid.

Babak S at June 16, 2005 02:12 PM [permalink]:


The threshold cannot be rigid because this is not a 0-1 problem. There is a range of "qualities". Just as being bald or not is not defined based on a threshold on the number of hair strands. It is funny that you bring up the Schroedinger's cat business here, since (one of) the accepted answer to it now is that a Schroedinger cat "state" is not uniquely defined. Just ask yourself this: how big a NO, if at all, is it to your strategy if 12345679 people vote?

About Ganji-Behnoud discussion and that question, didn't you also listen to Ganji's response? The votes meanings are different in an established democracy. This is very true, and should be said as many times as it gets when such questions are asked.

Another thing about our approach to the problem: I choose my behaviour not based on how "popular" they are, but how correct I think they are based on the arguments I have for and against them. Opting for a boycott or voting is no different. If a majority thinks it is no good, it does not invalidate the arguments. What could invalidate the arguments for are other arguments against. The truth usually starts appearing to humans in a minorty of ONE. It propagates since that ONE can convince others through by correct reasoning. The number of people who think a statement is in/correct can be used in an argument only very carefully. A free and meaningful discussion, in which that number did not play a role, must have first taken place among those people.

SG at June 16, 2005 02:28 PM [permalink]:

Babak S:

"The truth usually starts appearing to humans in a minorty of ONE. It propagates since that ONE can convince others through by correct reasoning. The number of people who think a statement is in/correct can be used in an argument only very carefully."

I'm afraid you are totally missing the point.

Here we are NOT talking about the truthfulness of a scientific idea. Like I said in my strike analogy, the ones who argue that "boycotting is the right thing to do" may be quite right. Obviously, if something is true, then it is true even if it comes from ONE person, as you say, or even if it comes from no-one, what so ever.

What we're dealing with here is not a scientific theory. We need results. Election is a game with its own rules. If a minority offers excellent fantastic well-thought-out arguments and keeps boycotting the elections, NOTHING will come out of it, as long as it remains a minority.

Tomorrow, whoever becomes president, will claim (rightly or shamelessly) that "people" chose him and this alone has enough rhtorical strength to override all the theoretical discussion about what is the "right" thing to do. And frankly, I wouldn't blame him.

You are given the right to vote (however flawed) and you choose not to use it. Touch luck!

Tough Luck! at June 16, 2005 02:35 PM [permalink]:

Ah, Ganji's reply. I have a lot of admiration for this man, but somebody should wake him up and remind him that he doesn't live in France.

For the sake of argument, imagine you live in Kuwait, or worse, in Saudi Arabia. Women can't vote. (In the latter country, even men couldn't vote until recently and election was unheard of.) Would you then simply refuse to use a hard-won right based on its being far from perfect?

Babak S at June 16, 2005 02:54 PM [permalink]:

SG,What we're dealing with here is not a scientific theory. We need results. Election is a game with its own rules. If a minority offers excellent fantastic well-thought-out arguments and keeps boycotting the elections, NOTHING will come out of it, as long as it remains a minority.

Firt, what I said is not limited to scietific theories. It is true for all areas of knowledge. Knowledge is the keyword here not science.

As to results, "if a minority offers excellent fantastic well-thought-out arguments and keeps boycotting the elections," as you say, an important thing is done: they preserve the chance of criticizing their strategy on the right basis, that is "fantastic well-thought-out" arguments. NOTHING will come out of it, if they just abandon their action FOR NO GOOD REASON. As I said, if a discussion independent of how many think what does not first take place, the number of the people who think something is true or not is irrelevant for choosing what course of action to take. (Unless of course we are working as a group in a party setting or something. There we need to reach a final decision all together.)

About waking up Ganji and your example of Saudi Arabia. It all goes back to what you are fighting for. In Saudi Arabia they are fighting to get the "right to vote." We have that now. We are fighting for the "right to be voted for." Don't you agree?

SG at June 16, 2005 03:36 PM [permalink]:

I think we should carefully distinguish between what is in principle *right* (and by all means continue our discussions and ripen and propagate our ideas) and how best to use the one-in-every-four-years opportunities.

All I'm saying is, what you say about the flaws of this election are all nice and dandy, and if the arguments of people like you had a chance to reach a majority by tomorrow (and sink in), then I'd be with you. But, the way I see it, that's not how it is.

The run-off will in fact give all the boycotter a chance to re-evaluate their premises. That's a good thing. And, by the way, I didn't say one can *determine* what a boycott is; like 40% or 60% not voting. I said we shouldn't fool ourselves. I meant to say that the boycotters should draw the line somewhere, in their own privacy or, if they can mobilize people, mobilize themselevs first, and proclaim a number in public, and stick to it.

And then if they get a NO from people, accept it graciously, and obey the rules of the democracy, however flawed. (Because democracy itself is not and cannot be perfect.)

SG at June 16, 2005 03:45 PM [permalink]:

One more thing, and this may have been discussed already:

If one objects to the way the Islamic Republic is run (for example, the Iranian constitution, the GC, how much power it wields, and even its very existence, etc.) and thinks "civil disobedience" or a "nonviolent movement" or "mobilizing the masses" is the answer, I don't quite see why he or she finds it necessary to come to the fore only once in every 4 years, right in the middle of the election season.

I mean there is no necessary logical relationship between these two. Is the only means of nonviolent resistance that you can think of boycotting the elections? I guess we need some fresh ideas!

Babak S at June 16, 2005 04:36 PM [permalink]:


Well, well. I cannot see how we can "obey the rules of the democracy" when there is none. The boycott or nonviolent movement is not a social plan or party platform. It is a strategy for the struggle towards democracy. Of course the number of people matters in such activities as well, but this is entirely of a different kind than the way it does in a democratic game. Moreover, even in a democracy and in a party, there is always a time period, as part of a cost-benefit analysis, that must be spent on arguing for (and against) a platform or a plan. This period does not always end on the election day.

My objection to drawing a "rigid" line (not a set of "qualified" lines) is that there is none. How can we draw a non-existent, meaningless line and hang all pour lives on it?

Also, the idea of boycott does not just show up at election times. The debate over it, of course, naturally heightens at these times. Nor do the elections occur only each four years. There are other elections between two presidential elections, the past two of which, the City and Legislature elections, saw a "normal" (on the scale of strength) boycott. The idea itslef has been around for a while now. Ganji's first Republican Manifesto for instance was published more than three years ago.

SG at June 16, 2005 04:58 PM [permalink]:

Babak S,

"I cannot see how we can "obey the rules of democracy" when there is none."

Okay, let me use your own line here, this time applied to democracy: "[T]his is not a 0-1 problem. There is a range of "qualities". Just as being bald or not is not defined based on a threshold on the number of hair strands."

What we have in Iran is a less democratic system compared to some countries and more democratic compared to some other countries. But when Life gives you lemons, make lemonade, as the saying goes!

Look! This is what we have, and Akbar Ganji is not going to reveal what his later plans are for the nonviolent movement and we cannot conceive any plans after we sit at home and somebody who we don't like makes us sorry either...

Sorry! at June 16, 2005 05:00 PM [permalink]:

I meant: ... becomes president and make us sorry...

Babak S at June 16, 2005 05:25 PM [permalink]:


I am not even sure what or why I am discussing. Are you just trying to punch in the last words in this contest?

So I said that we did not have a 0-1 game (although that was about a different issue, but let's without going through a lot of thinking accept the same is true about the issue of democracy). I did not say there is no 0 or 1! There are bald and non-bald people in the world and a range of others.

What we have in Iran does not satisfy the minimum requirements for a democracy, the word itself meaning "the rule of people." Simple.

And like I said before the man we don't like (esmeš ham nabar!) is already calling the shots legally and in public (that is to say, this is no conspircacy theory), president or not. Why fool ourselves?

SG at June 16, 2005 05:50 PM [permalink]:

Just imagine "the man we don't like" suffers such a huge blow. Will he be as powerful as he is now?

I don't think so.

Babak S at June 16, 2005 06:13 PM [permalink]:


There is no need for imagination. You seem to have forgotten, he suffered such a huge blow in the sixth Legislature elections. He was not even among the first 30 on Tehran's list. What happened? Now he has enough money to pay (buy off?) chic boys and girls who are dressed to the last mode of the day to campaign for him in the streets, and on their upscale cars. What kept him at this position of power? The undemocratic power structure, both real and legal.

SG at June 16, 2005 08:09 PM [permalink]:

Touche, but I will still vote!

This is off-topic (or maybe off-off-topic), but the fact that he *can* in fact buy off so many Iranians, that such a number of Iranian youth are so ... (gullible? corrupt? shortsighted? small-minded? immature? what?) to think Hashemi (what the heck, let's name the culprit) is the one to rely on for progress (however you define this term) is a rather disconcerting fact about Iranians.

You should also bear in mind that if we did have a democratic system, given the kind of people I see on the streets, still demagogues had a high chance of winning. That's how imperfect democracy is. Perhaps by choosing to vote, I'm trying to make-up for the off-balance that a real democracy would cause, or perhaps I'm just BSing.

Babak S at June 16, 2005 10:17 PM [permalink]:


Just a reminder: even if people choose a Hashemi Rafsanjani in a democracy, assuming he does not demolish the democracy, he is going to be voted out of the power (legal, and to a great extent real political as well) in a finite period of time peacefully. That's the major advantage in a democracy.

As to you still voting: by all means. That is your natural right. I just hope that you do get what you are voting for. And be prepared to show up in the streets anyway, when Mr. Moeen, if elected and if honest to his campaign promises, will need the popular support to turn them into reality. I will be there too, perhaps even before he plans to use it.

Niayesh at June 17, 2005 12:40 AM [permalink]:

In case you guys are tired of endless arguments, here is something really on the topic:

The only Iranian polling agency that I have heard of, ISPA (, puts Moeen at the forth place, behind Rafsanjani, Ahmadinezhad, and Ghalibaf respectively. However, the poll only includes 8000 Tehran citizens.

In sharp contrast with this result is Baztab online poll, which puts Moeen closely behind Rafsanjani (

To me, it's obvious that none of the polls is scientific or reliable, by western standards. Does anybody know of a more reliable poll?

Monika at June 17, 2005 04:02 AM [permalink]:

Be in do Jaani ray nadahid: Rafsanjani & Larijani!

'Sare gorg bayad ham aval borid
Na chon goosfandane mardom darid'

ghazal at June 17, 2005 11:00 AM [permalink]:

Well I hear many people in Iran have been scared of voting today because of recent bombings so we might get a very low turn out from reformist after all, even those who weren't to boycott.

SG at June 17, 2005 11:50 AM [permalink]:

Babak S,

What I find quite difficult for me to put in words (English or Persian) and thus communicate it to you is democracy needs time. In my opinion, you are too impatient. If you want to swing off a tree, you have to wait until it's strong enough.

8 years, or even 26 years, is hardly enough. In order to work, democracy should become a nation's *second nature* and that, I'm afraid, is the closest I can come to expressing what I see and apparently you don't, or at least not as clearly.

Ali M at June 17, 2005 01:00 PM [permalink]:


Try to explain your viewpoint to those in prison or which will be imprisoned or killed by the IRI in the future.

Try to explain them that you had the opportunity to resist non violently by refusing simply to participate in this mascarade and you did not because it takes times for democracy to become a nation's "second nature". It is with this kind of mentality that the IRI is still there.

SG at June 17, 2005 01:14 PM [permalink]:

Ali M:

"It is with this kind of mentality that the IRI is still there."

I agree!

But I am willing to bet with you that, as a FACT, IRI is not going anywhere in near future. True, it may be because of the mentality of millions of Iranians who voted today. Boycotters tried their best to dissuade people from participating. But again, it is a FACT that they did not succeed. (I should add that their arguments against voting have surely deepened and enriched the discourse of democracy among us.)

With these facts in mind, I figured that the best way to make the best out of the current situation is to vote. I am sorry to have disappointed you.

SG at June 17, 2005 01:21 PM [permalink]:

Also, you cannot (and should not) blame those Iranians who voted today (I guess more than 50% of the eligible voters) for contributing to whatever injustice that occurs in Iran. Your argument (if you are in fact offering one) is flawed, because it presupposes that there is some monolithic monstrous entity known as IRI and base your arguments on this illusion. Quite similar to when they talk about Amrika in Friday prayer sermons: Amrika this, Amrika that. As if there is no inner conflict between different parts, no cross-criticism taking place inside the system.

Ali M at June 17, 2005 01:32 PM [permalink]:


I have a good job and a confortable life in Europe and no ambition whatsoever to go back in Iran but I have a political conscience and coming from a family of human rights activists I am sensible to this issue.

Now if this is what you guys want, it is find with me, I will go back to my life with my conscience lighter knowing that you take responsability like an adult.

A Reader at June 17, 2005 01:46 PM [permalink]:


Just to make my point :

"On Friday, people will display their faith in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and its unchangeable articles," the Supreme Leader said.

This is exactly what you have voted for. Congratulation

Babak S at June 17, 2005 02:16 PM [permalink]:


(I'm only answering since this comment section has turned into a detailed rebuttal of the points raised in this boycott debate...)

On time needed: there is no doubt that time is needed and the process is gradual. The debate is over what to do in this time. Go vote in an open-ended, most likely futile show, or put the finger on the real issue. To wait for the problem to melt away (it won't if you can believe it), that is, or to solve the problem actively.

On a monolithic IR: No, even the IR is not monilithic, but that's beside the point, or maybe exactly the point depending on your taste. See, It is the monolithic side of it, namely the Leader and his rather extended umbrella in the structure of power, that is casuing all our problems. (Does anyone doubt that?) Unless and until, this situation addressed in people's actions and demands, the problem won't be solved by itself, or by a "caretaker" president (in Khatami's own words).

SG at June 17, 2005 03:11 PM [permalink]:

A Reader:


Just to make my point :

"On Friday, people will display their faith in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and its unchangeable articles," the Supreme Leader said.

This is exactly what you have voted for. Congratulation"

Do you *always* take what he says seriously?! Or you pay attention to what he claims selectively?

Did you expect him to say something else?

Babak S:

"See, It is the monolithic side of it, namely the Leader and his rather extended umbrella in the structure of power, that is casuing all our problems. (Does anyone doubt that?) Unless and until, this situation addressed in people's actions and demands, the problem won't be solved by itself, or by a "caretaker" president (in Khatami's own words)."

Couldn't agree more. The point, however, is the following, as clearly as I can put it:

The solution is not to boycott the election.

This is, of course, only my opinion. In fact, I think boycotting this election would harm the little vulnerable idea of "democracy" that has taken shape in the last 8 years. That's exactly why I voted.

I think by now we can all agree that boycotters failed to convince a sizeable population not to vote. I think they should come up with other ways to oppose that un-democratic part of IRI; ways that do not require people to have to choose between a rather uncertain future (with a high chance of going back to square one, as it is the habit of this little kitty on the world map) and a more predictable, albeit not 100% satisfactory one.

Updates at June 17, 2005 04:47 PM [permalink]:


one-liner at June 17, 2005 06:10 PM [permalink]:

ye del mige beram beram, ye delam migeh naram naram.

I know very intelligent and honest people among advocates of all ideas about this election, including one idea that had much fewer advocates: voting for Raf. I want to conclude that the problem is more complicated than most of us (I think all of us) are thinking. Most of us are expressing our gutt feelings without a theory of the future. It's like playing chess with having a few principles in mind (take the center,....) but without detailed plans. The inability to think about the future is a very interesting phenomenon and is more correlated with personality traits than the IQ of a person. It can, for example, be caused by PTSD in very intelligent people (growing up under Islamic dictatorship is quite a T, I would say).

Babak S at June 17, 2005 07:16 PM [permalink]:


I think the problem is essentially the inherent difficulty of thinking (and discussing) rationally. Most of the time, you can make major headways by just doing that. (I'm not saying I am not prone to this myself.) Read "The Myth of the Framework," by Karl Popper, especially chapters 1-3. See p. 44.