1. There are many poor people.
2. There is a damn evil corrupt government [?].
3. There is a non-democratic election [?].
4. Elites and the intellectuals [?] are in vacation. They do not waste their precious time over the faint election.
5. The rest go vote and select a president of their kind.
6. Intellectuals are angry and boycott living in such a stupid country to let the world know.
7. The new president takes control and removes corrupt people from the power and replaces them with trusted people who are mainly relatives and friends.
8. They are new, so they will make mistakes to learn the job and the enemy is always there to blame. These mistakes can be as bad as a war.
9. Professionals immigrate at this point because they think they can do better elsewhere.
10. By the time the new government learns how to do its job, they too will become rich and corrupt, or at least the people who are around them [?] will.
11. Go to the first step.
a) How many times have we gone through this loop?
b) How many times will we be going through this loop?
c) What is the steady state of the system?
d) How can we break this loop?
At 7:30 AM, Saturday morning, I get up. Still half asleep, the first thing that comes to my mind is to check the news for election. I am so nervous that I do not know where to look it up on the web. But as soon as the Yahoo web page loads, it's the first thing I see in the news section on the screen: "Hardline Mayor Wins Iran Presidential Race." The news is like a bump on my head. I feel desperate. What can I do? What can we do? In what follows I try to analyze what gave rise to this choice for the public, and propose a plan for moving on.
The result of the election is the reflection of the average level of political consciousness of Iran. It is not something we can change; however, we should think of ways for confronting the hard times in the forthcoming years in the history of Iran.
Ahmadinejad has been chosen with 62.2% of the votes. Although there might have been some violations at the polls, the votes cannot have been doubled in contrast to Hashemi's 35% share of the votes. Obviously the economic and cultural poverty has led to this disaster. In our community of friends, and all the reformists, we all decided to vote for Hashemi, even though it was hard for us and he had no positive legacy in our hearts. What about the public mindset? How much did we analyze the patterns of thinking of the public? What should we expect in a country where more than 70% of the people live below the poverty line or on the boundary, even though it has enough natural and human resources to have better living conditions? The main concern of the majority of people is to have the basics in their lives. How can they think about other issues such as social freedoms when they have to struggle for their living from early morning to late night? I do understand that the domestic and foreign and cultural policies are intimately entangled with the economical outcome, but expecting the public to have this insight is far from reality.
What have we done to illuminate the people’s minds? How can we talk to them in a convincing manner? They have their own frame of reference, their usual patterns of thinking are too intricate to beat, and even their terminology and line of reasoning is too different from ours.
I know it is not easy; there are all sorts of frictions inside the country. Advanced tools of communication like the internet are not available for the public. In spite of all this, some necessary steps must be taken towards the growth of our political insight. We should learn how to discuss and argue with people around us, from our neighbors to the friend who has the opposite opinion. The "Conversation of Civilizations" should arise from within our daily life.
To avoid such an historical incidence or at least to minimize the probability of its occurrence in the future, we must start from now on. In the first place, we should think of ways to tone down the consequences of such a hardline government as this and prevent strangulation in the society. I do not want to suggest anything hastily now. Finding a practical strategy requires exchange of opinions and political experience of all Iranian intellectuals and university graduates from all over the world. Perhaps little can be done, but there is no choice except to move on. We are bound to keep hoping otherwise we die.
In the second step, I think, there should be some systematic study on the sociological composition of the society. Having some statistics of thinking patterns of the people and their response to social events and excitement will help us to find the cultural knots and veins. This will provide us with the information about how to orient our activities in the direction of illuminating the people’s minds, hoping that the resulting cultural growth will reduce the chances of repeating such historical mistakes in the future.
In covering the recent Iranian election and upcoming runoff, English-language media discovered the Iranian weblog, and a society more complex than they had imagined. It's true that we bloggers in Iran are an important example of the multi-faceted nature of Iranian culture and politics. It's also true that we were blindsided by the election results.
For the first time in Iranian history, a run-off election will be conducted between the top two candidates for president, moderate former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While Rafsanjani has always been considered a leading candidate, Ahmadinejad's success was a surprise.
Most journalists and bloggers supported reformist Mostafa Moin's candidacy and envisioned significant support for him. Even blogging guru Hossein Derakhshan ("Hoder") predicted on his Persian weblog that "Moin was going to beat Rafsanjani in the first round." In the end, Moin finished fifth in a seven-man race. Two candidates generally overlooked by bloggers and who never cracked the top three in polls before the election, Ahmadinejad and moderate cleric Mehdi Karroubi, finished second and third respectively. That caused many bloggers, such as Mr. Behi, an anonymous blogger from Iran, to state, "It is hard to write. Everyone is in ultimate shock of these unprecedented, unbelievable and horrible results."
Ultimately, the election demonstrated how limited and misleading the perspective of bloggers and journalists can be. As Shahram Kholdi noted on his blog, S'can-Iranic, "Moin's blogosphere supporters did their best to help him to find a niche amongst the younger Iranians population, but they too failed to stir much excitement, as weblogs' reach to Iran cannot compete with those of the mass media outlets."
There are almost 100,000 weblogs written in Persian, the language of Iranians, and over 5 million Internet users in Iran, out of a population of 70 million. Though these are significant numbers, they are overshadowed by the fact that the vast majority of Iranians do not have access to the Web. Rather, as with most countries, bloggers represent the views of a very limited demographic group: affluent and otherwise privileged individuals who already have access to independent foreign news sources. Bloggers alone, therefore, are incapable of representing the way most Iranians think.
The failure by bloggers, reporters and analysts to accurately predict the election results is largely due to our "Tehran-centricism." As the country's large metropolitan capital, Tehran is the focal point of most news coming out of Iran. The vast majority of journalists, including bloggers, focus on the ambitions and struggles facing Tehran's disgruntled youths, rather than Iran's disgruntled poor. While almost no blogger or news agency gave significant attention to Karroubi's campaign promise to give every Iranian an $80 monthly stipend if elected, that strategy almost placed him in the top two. In the end, Karroubi finished behind Ahmadinejad by less than 1 percent of all votes.
Similarly, few bloggers anticipated that military groups like the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and paramilitary groups, like the Basij, would come out in such large numbers to support Ahmadinejad. A month ago, I had written on my own blog, Iranian Truth, about the possible rise of militarism in Iranian politics and mentioned Ahmadinejad's support among different military groups. However, neither my post, nor that of most journalists and bloggers, portrayed military and paramilitary groups as significant lobbyists. Now, Ahmadinejad's military backing is beginning to look insurmountable, thus causing Yaser Kerachian to state on the group blog "Free Thoughts on Iran", "Having Ahmadinejad as Iran's president for the next four years is not far from reality. If it happens, it will be the start of one of the darkest years in Iran's contemporary history."
The success of Ahmadinejad, Karroubi and Rafsanjani demonstrates that discontent among Iran's poor, military, working and rural classes is more powerful than anticipated. As bloggers and journalists, we must reconsider not only the accuracy of our perspectives, but also the nature of Iranian politics altogether. Journalists and bloggers tend to think that conservative politicians are anomalies in our society. It is important to remember, however, that conservative elements in Iran are not only political units, but also have significant grassroots support. As Trita Parsi recently stated on Iran Scan, "Everyone seems shocked, and yet no one really should be — we knew, though we so often forget, that 15 to 25 percent of the Iranian population back the conservatives."
Blogs are still powerful tools in Iran and will continue to grow in strength as long as the Iranian government continues to repress freedom of speech. However, it is easy to rely on the English media and bloggers to provide us with the tools for understanding and interpreting Iran. But these are limited perspectives of Iranian society. To better relay Iran's dynamic culture, it is fundamental that journalists and bloggers expand their points of view, rather than relying on such a Tehran-centric perspective.
Presidential election of Iran is close to an end. Some call it a sham, some say it is the most critical election in Iran in a long time, and some think all the uproar is to get Rafsanjani elected with more votes. One thing is clear, those of us outside Iran have very different opinions on this election, and this can be good because it allows us to learn something out of the whole experience.
But learning is not easy, in this context it requires our understanding that our mental model of the situation has been wrong, and many psychological processes, from data selection and perception bias, to fundamental attribution error, work against such learning. Soon after the election our minds unconsciously will start to change our predictions, our assumptions, and our attributions, to match it with what is observed… and we will lose this great learning opportunity. Therefore, to be able to learn, we need to put a stick where our thought processes are today.
Here I lay out a few questions for myself, and those of you interested in your personal learning, that can act as such a stick. You can copy and paste them to the comment section and fill them in. Of course you need a (pseudo) name so that you can recognize your answers later. In a few days, a few month, or a couple of years, you can come back to the comment section of this article and see what you have predicted and how the reality has unfolded. We can all learn a lot of useful things from this experience, especially if the reality does not unfold as we expect.
For each question give an answer as brief as possible. There is a comment question at the end to give more comprehensive answers where you deem appropriate, or just to write about the article.
1. What are the chances of winning (percentage) for each candidate?
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
2. What is your position on this election (Boycott, Vote for Hashemi, Vote for Ahmadinejad)?
3. What will be the effect of each candidates winning, on the following aspects of Iranian society, as compared with today's situation (very positive/positive/neutral/negative/very negative)?
a) Economic prosperity
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
b) Political freedoms
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
c) Social freedoms
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
4. What will be the effect on Iran's position in nuclear negotiations (move twords reconciliation/ confrontation)?
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
5. What will be the effect on chances of a democratic uprising in Iran. (increase/no effect/ decrease)?
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
6. What will be the effect on chances of military confrontation with U.S./west (increase/no effect/ decrease)?
-- i. Ahmadinejad
-- ii. Hashemi
7. Among what is considered probable by others, what are the three scenarios that will challenge my thoughts most, and therefore I can learn most from them if they happen.
The cover of the 26th print of the book by Ganji that is thought to be the major cause for his imprisonment, "The Red Eminence, The Grey Eminences (the pathology of the transition to developing demacratic govenment)."
I have been holding my breath since the election results were clear. I was dismayed by the results then, and even considered shutting this part of my life down in favour of more rewarding activities of which there is no shortage. But I was discouraged even more by the aim and target of some of my friends, and indeed almost all so-called reformist politicians, activists, journalists, etc. who have since become ever more active to persuade us to vote for Hashemi Rafsanjani. In all this it seems only a principled lawyer and human rights activist such as Shirin Ebadi is able to keep her mind together.
I remain convinced that the road to democracy in Iran does not go through the supervised elections of the Islamic Repubic, all the less through this run-off. The reasons are the same as the ones given before by great thinkers such as Akbar Ganji. Even if I agreed hypothetically that voting against Ahmadi Nejad is the right thing to do, there would remain issues that are being inevitably pushed aside in this frenzy of campaiging for votes turned into a matter of life and death. This shift of focus can prove even more dangerous than the presidency of Ahmadi Nejad, which in any case would naturally place heavy costs on the anti-democratic camp itself. I could not hold the deep breath any more, so here I would like to register a few of these sacrificed issues, at least for the record and future reference.
1. Elections in Iran are just a façade. This is the most important item sacrificed in the campagin for votes against Ahmadi Nejad. The real power structure in Iran does not depend much on the outcome of elections. The shots are called mostly by the unelected bodies, especially on the most sensitive issues. This is exemplified by both run-off candidates. Rafsanjani is the head of the Expediency Assembly by the Leader's decree and has always had great influence and (political and economic) power. Ahmadi Nejad represents the military forces of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Basij both under the direct supervision of the unelected Leader and is reportedly supported by his appointees in the Guardian Council. This structure of power would not go away even if Moeen was elected.
2. Rafsanjani is L'Eminence Rouge. This truism is the other direct victim of this fierce campaigning. If 20 out of 30 million participants vote for Rafsanjani in the run-off (a scenario not so implausible) he would have a mandate as large as Khatami's. Given his position and history, he would be able, unlike Khatami, to use this quite effectively for his agenda. Do not expect that to be anything you may like.
3. Fascism in Iran does not end with Ahmadi Nejad's defeat. Fascistic methods were in use even before the revolution of 1979 culminated in ousting the Shah's last prime minitser, Bakhtiar. Indeed it was the way the mullahs succeeded in consolidating their powers against their rivals after the revolution. That Fascistic consolidation of power is still present. Even if Ahmadi Nejad is accepted to be the only one between the two candidates that would be bringing back the danger of Islamic Fascism to Iran, one must not forget that he and his friends in the Guards Corps and Basij are and will remain in the real structure of power even if defeated in the run-off.
4. Iran is not France. I can't but laugh at the proliferation of this analogy between France's last run-off and Iran's. Is it the wish that Iran were France, I ask myself, that makes people ignore all the facts against such laughable analogy or simply the poetic nature of Iranians mingled with their political thinking? Whatever the reason, once our friends are done, successfully or not, with getting the votes they can for their, in their own words, less-than-ideal candidate, they must only face the reality of Iran (and not France) and that is that they are living in a theocracy ruled by the likes of Rafsanjani himself.
5. Ganji is dying. Finally, the most disasterous side effect of this election circus is that the trembling voices of true champions of freedom such as Ganji and Zarafshan and many more unlawful captives in Islamic Republic's prisons, and even possibly their bodies are buried under the noise. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if one-tenth of the effort put into vote campaiging today had been spent on campaiging for the freedom of Ganji, Zarafshan, and their colleagues, or indeed, for that matter, for the true freedom and the true democracy in Iran. Would they still elude us?
Let me explain why I changed my mind. First, I do not believe in boycotting the election as an effective way to protest. There are many other forms of protest such as writing petitions or participating in gatherings. Boycotting the election is the weakest of all. The reason is simple: By boycotting the election, citizens indicate that they are unhappy with the system, but they do not indicate how much cost they are willing to pay to change the system. In contrast, participants in other forms of protest (where participation is not anonymous) show that they are willing to accept some danger as the price for the changes they are demanding. A dictatorship can easily ignore a low election turn out, but it cannot do so with a street gathering.
The reason I had originally decided not to vote was that I thought the choice is between Moeen and Rafsanjani. I like the ideals of Moeen better, but did not think that he is strong enough to move us closer to those ideals. On the other hand, if Hashemi wins with a low turn out, the popular pressure might lead him to do the "right" thing.
After I heard initial reports of the outcome of the election, I realized that Ahmadinejad, the fundamentalists' candidate, is winning more votes than I had expected. This made me go to the polling station and vote for Moeen. At 4pm, in the only polling station in a city with several thousands of Iranians, I was the 25th person to cast my ballot.
Now, in the second round of the election, we face a choice between Hashemi, a conservative candidate who has proven to be an opponent of political freedom and democracy, and Ahmadinejad, a fundamentalist candidate supported by the Leader and the Islamic militia. I think it is important for us to differentiate between the fundamentalists and the conservatives in Iranian politics. What our country needs even more than democracy is rationality, and rationality is exactly what is lacking from fundamentalism.
The bottom line is that the danger of fundamentalism is far beyond the danger of dictatorship, both for Iran and for the world. Let us get together this Friday in the second round of the election and say a big 'No' to fundamentalism.
There will be enough time to talk about the lessons we can learn from the June 17th election. However, we have only 5 days to run-off on June 24th. Ahmadinejad, a hardliner and the mayor of Tehran will compete with Hashemi Rafsanjani. Shall we vote this time? In my opinion, our participation in the run-off is even more important than last Friday's election.
Having Ahmadinejad as Iran's president for the next four years is not far from reality. If it happens, it will be the start of one of the darkest years in Iran's contemporary history.
Ahmadinejad will fully end the reform movement and any hope for Iran's peaceful transition toward democracy in near future. The reformist and even pragmatist camp will be fully banned from upcoming elections. Ahmadinejad foreign policy is also very horrifying. Iran's nuclear negotiation with Europe will soon get to a deadlock in which could make Iran facing UN sanction and possibly US invasion. Not to mention that Ahmadinejad's very back-minded agenda in running the country will drastically deteriorate Iran's economy.
One lesson from the June 17th election is the failure of boycott strategy. People's civil disobedience in order to get to democracy is just a dream. Boycotting the upcoming run-off is nothing just helping Ahamdinejad to run the country toward Fascism. Those who want other than Fascism have no choice but voting the other candidate, whoever he is.
"Dark Truth," © Sabin Corneliu Buraga.
According to the Ministry of Interior of the reformist government of Mr. Khatami, the reformist candidate Dr. Moeen came in the fifth place in the elections of this Friday and about 28 million participated in the elections.
There are basically only two possible alternatives. The results are rigged or they aren't. No matter which one of the above is the case, blaming the pro-boycott camp for the low vote is meaningless and ridiculous. In the first case, their candidate has actually won. In the second case, given the high turnout and the low rank of their candidate, the participation of those who boycotted the elections wouldn't have changed the results in any reasonable expectation.
Either way, those who advocated participation in this election made a very terrible mistake and dealt a very heavy blow to the process of the move towards democracy in Iran, as I will try to show in this article.
Alternative 1: The results are rigged: If so, assuming Moeen was truly in the first or the second rank, the cheating must have been extremely monumental. The question the voting advocates have to ask themselves is: why did they participate and called others, in such huge numbers, to participate in a system where such amount of cheating is permissible, even when the executive responsible for holding that election was controlled by the so-called reformist side? Whether it was due to the Bassijis interference or some other means is irrelevant. They advocated voting for a president that can't prevent such a blatant fraud in such a supposedly important election.
Furthermore, if this is the case, the pro-voting campaigners must have succeeded in increasing the number of voters considerably for their candidate to have reached, in the unrigged reality, the top two ranks. Thus, using the excuse of cheating cannot lift the responsibility of their decision off their shoulders. On the contrary, it exacerbates it. For if this is the case, they are the ones who have made possible this huge turnout for such a non-transparent system.
Alternative 2: The results are more or less correct, leaving room only for the usual procedure of adding a certain percentage to the total number of ballots cast. In this case, the pro-participation advocates basically provided the regime with the large number of votes it so desperately needed, despite the fact that the chances of their candidate to win the election were so slim. This might seem as paradoxical at first: if their candidate didn't win so many votes, what has the large number of participants got to do with them and their campaigning?
The answer is, had they done the right thing and joined the boycott of elections and so helped in forming a voice against participation, this could have become the dominant paradigm of the society and led to a much lower turnout than what we see now.
Some will undoubtedly start blaming the people and repeat the worn out excuse that the talk of freedom and democracy is futile for such a people as ours. This is not true. The people have been extremely patient with this reform, but masses need direction and correct messages. When you bombard them with sophistries, wrong messages and show them only dead-ends, that is where you finally reach. No democratic society was from the beginning made of intellectual philosophers (and is not even today). This is an excuse for passivity. It is not the people, but most of the activists and political players that are ignorant, incompetent and out of touch with reality.
The lessons to be learned are many. The most important is the fact that the heads of real power are acting in unison to navigate in troubled waters and save the regime. The myth of enmity between Khamenei and Rafsanjani has to be thrown away. In my opinion, their real important objective in this election has been to win as many votes as possible, break the boycott, and to prevent the younger, hot-headed and less-sophisticated hardliner aspirants to come to power in the current international conditions. The reformists were manageable and not important. Using them was a calculated risk. They would have needed such a huge turnout to win that if they did win, that was considered worthwhile. Those who will tell the shots will remain the same anyway It was important that the international image is left unharmed by extreme hardliners.
There still remains one possibility of fraud: Ahmadinejad could very well have been raised over Karroubi by cheating. If so, the reason should be clear by now. They need another huge turnout for the second round. People must be given enough incentive to participate; and preventing Ahmadinejad from winning will give them exactly that. In any case, it is quite certain now that Rafsanjani is going to be the winner, even by cheating the results if necessary.
The other important lesson is that some political leaders, activists and writers should be completely ignored from now on. They will only create noise and confuse the situation. The Participation Front (Mosharekat), The Islamic Revolutionary Mujahideen Organization (Mojahedin-e Enghelaab), The Freedom Movement (Nehzat Azadi) and their supporters are finished. Instead others who both understand the situation and have proven honest and willing to act should be supported.
This article is not to beat a dead horse. I believed it was necessary because old excuses will be repeated again for certain in the coming days to justify this mistake. If we still insist on remaining blind, only worse kinds of defeat will await us in the future. By rejecting a total boycott democracy in Iran lost an important battle on Friday. There would not be another such an opportune moment in the near future. This chance was missed. There is now the time to cut the losses and begin the real grass-root struggle for a referendum. The first step must be the boycott of the second round of this "elections." It is finally time to understand the simple fact that freedom is not free.
The verdict is out. Along with many others from the imprisoned dissidents like Akbar Ganji, formerly jailed cartoonist Nik Kowsar and Noble Peace Laureate Ebadi to the main student bodies like the Office for Strengthening Unity (the collective of Islamic Student Assemblies) I called, in my own small way, for a boycott, argued why I thought it was the best way we could seriously start on the road to a better future — we got a big ‘No!’ Others, from the formerly jailed satirist Nabavi, and journalist Behnoud to my other student friends in and out of Iran, argued why a boycott was not the answer and argued for voting, for Moeen — they too got a very big ‘No!’ The ‘No!’s came from the 62% of the eligible voters who voted on Friday to place Mr. Moeen on the fifth step, with a flimsy 13.7% of the turnout, among the seven candidates running for office.
One can discuss why this happened, what went wrong or right for whom and when. There will be talks about the election being rigged. This is a serious matter and I won't be surprised that it is true. The elections were rigged, long before it came to counting votes. The whole process was rigged and that was at the core of the reasoning for the boycott.
But one thing remains: sending Rafsanjani with Ahmadi Nejad to the run-off is also a nicely stretched finger on top of the two big ‘No’s. Fortunately, I'm not a politician and whatever inclinations I had to become one in the recesses of my unconsciousness must have been nicely turned into vapour now and be gone. So, I can just resign from the little election campaign I have been running from my laptop. I can simply go about my business, and shrug the ‘No’ and the finger off my shoulder. I won't even have a guilty conscience — why should I, when the object of my activism does not even give a damn?
I am fortunate to be able to do this. There are others though who, not only cannot do this, but are in fact in very dire circumstances. I am talking about the dissidents, journalists, political activists, students and lawers who are behind the bars in various prisons in the IR. Most of them have been on hunger strike for the past days for one reason: human rights. They are Iran's thinkers, brave souls, heroes, leaders. Have people no sense? Are we going to see them die in body or in soul? What about my conscience?
Ninth Presidential Elections, June 17, 2005
Total Votes: 28,849,000, 09:55 ET (June 18), Final
(Source: Shargh Online) -- These are the interior ministry's official results.
Ninth Presidential Elections, June 17, 2005
22,019,569 Votes Counted, 03:30 ET (June 18)
Rafsanjani, 21.5% | Karrubi, 20.3% | Ahmadi Nejad, 17.5% | Qalibaf, 15.2% | Moeen, 14.4% | Larijani, 6.7% | Mehr Alizade, 4.4%
(Source: Shargh Online) -- These are the interior ministry's official results.
19,708,424 Votes Counted, 01:55 ET (June 18)
Rafsanjani, 21.8% | Karrubi, 20.7% | Ahmadi Nejad, 17.5% | Moeen, 14.5% | Qalibaf, 13.9% | Larijani, 5.9% | Mehr Alizade, 4.6%
(Source: Shargh Online) -- These are the interior ministry's official results. There seems to be other ones, announced by the Guardian Council, claiming more votes count at about 24,000,000 in which Ahmadi Nejad (the fundamentist candidate) and Karrubi (the traditional reformist candidate) switch places.
9, 995, 804 Votes Counted, 20:55 ET (June 17)
Karrubi, 22.1% | Rafsanjani, 20.4% | Ahmadi Nejad, 16.8% | Qalibaf, 15.8% | Moeen, 14.5% | Larijani, 7.1% | Mehr Alizade, 3.5%
(Source: Shargh Online)
First Official Press Release, 18:10 ET (June 17)
Karrubi, 27% | Ahmadi Nejad, 16% | Rafsanjani, 16% | Moeen, 15% | Qalibaf, 13%
(Source: Shargh Online)
According to some unofficial reports, recent polls in Iran show that while pro-democracy people are debating passionately about voting for the moderate presidential candidate, Mostafa Moeen, or totally boycotting the election, another sector of the society, namely the Basij and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are united to do their best to take the conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad, to the run-off.
While I am not trying to argue about what needs to be done at this stage of Iran’s revolution, as other people have discussed before in this forum, the current situation reminded me of a joke that I heard some time ago.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto woke the Lone Ranger and said, "Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what you see?" The Lone Ranger replied, "I see millions of stars." "What that tell you?" asked Tonto. The Lone Ranger pondered for a minute, then said, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Tonto?" Tonto was silent for a moment, and then said, "Kemo Sabe, you dumber than buffalo shit. Somebody stole tent."
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.
As I am browsing through the comments posted under "I Will NOT Vote", it indeed seems that this election, once again, has turned into a referendum. To vote or not to vote, that seems to be the question. The Islamic regime itself has always tried to make it look like this. Voting per se is encouraged, as a sign of support of people for the regime, regardless of who gets elected. That was the slogan eight years ago when Mr. Khatami had that landslide victory over Nategh Nouri, and that still seems to be, even with more intensity, the case today. Overall, based on what I have read, heard, and seen from the candidates and the political commentaries, both inside and outside the country, I can fairly say that the focus of attention has been largely on pseudo-issues.
One group, mostly comprising people outside the circle of power and political dissidents, have once again, like almost all the other elections, engaged in the recurring "to vote or not to vote" debate. Those who advocate a boycott see it as a clear "No" to the regime, and those who advocate participation, emphasize that change, political change that is, requires action and cannot be achieved by inaction. Both of the factions in this group talk about long-term effects, although some are also hoping for some short-term results. i. e. foreign (military) intervention.
A second group, consisting of the candidates and their advisors and speakspersons, or the journalists and commentators on their payroll, mostly talk about issues that have proven to be outside the presidential jurisdiction. Freedom of press, freedom of speech, the nuclear issue, re-establishing ties with the U.S., even rewriting the constitution, and pretty much everything that the president and his cabinet have absolutely no authority in. Even when they do talk about relevant issues such as the economy, they make either highly ambiguous statements, or outrageously simplistic promises.
On one rare occasion, however, there was a roundtable discussion on one of IRIB TV channels about economy. The participants were all economic advisors to the presidential candidates. The show's host, Morteza Heydari, set forth a very clear issue and asked them to clarify their constituent's plans to deal with it, if they get elected as the next president:
Given the surging oil prices, and given the fact that both high and low oil incomes have proven to cause the government to face budget deficits, what are you going to do to get out of this vicious circle of lack of funds due to low oil prices, and high inflation due to high oil incomes?
The answers were quite interesting to hear. Some had absolutely no idea and therefore resorted to highly generalized and idealistic comments and even verses of Quran(!), and some, who did provide a concrete answer, amazed even a person like me with a lower than layman level of knowledge in economics. The guy representing Mr. Karrubi, the genius behind the "monthly 50,000 Tomans (US $60) per person" idea, actually suggested that since pouring the oil dollars into the country would cause inflation, instead of keeping it in the "national foreign exchange savings account", we should invest it in overseas projects such as the Petrochemical industries of Saudi Arabia! Someone else said we should spend it on building the country's infrastructure but was not quite sure how to do that without causing a huge inflation and at the same time ensuring that enough jobs are created for the domestic labour market. Personally, I do not know what the right answer is, but more frightening was that the people who are and will be running the country seemed to be as clueless as I am.
I am simply wondering, while we are all busy talking about whether or not to vote, who is going to worry about how the country's day-to-day affairs will be run in the next four (possibly eight) years? Do we have no more contribution to make than just having an opinion on whether to vote or not? Even if we are certain that voting, or bycotting, is going to have some result in an indefinite point of time in the future, do we have any idea what would happen to the country in the mean time? I for one would very much like to see an article posted here on FToI that offers some ideas on such issues as "what to do with the oil money!"
I have argued so much against voting at this time that it might pass without notice that I have considered voting as a real option since the start. As I have written in a comment on this site and later elsewhere I supported, and still do, conditional participation.
One lesson that I think must be learned from the experience of the previous 8 years is that Khatami was mistaken by many to be someone he wasn't. He expressed opinions (always carefully crafted) that were taken to mean things more radical and progressive than what he himself was ready to accept or admit. His office issued numerous denials each time his words were taken to mean some hidden progressive idea or course of action in the press.
Now, who is Moeen? That question is of vital importance since that is a determining factor in deciding whether to vote for him or not for many. Not many are convinced by the general arguments for the superiority of a boycott strategy and many will base their decision on what they see in the person of Moeen. In that respect one should not make the same mistake of "subjectively projecting" his or her demands on the identity of whom he or she votes for.
Is he the steadfast, powerful upholder of the rights and achiever of demands many like to think he is? Is he going to do what Khatami did not do: not let go of the opportunities to advance the cause of freedom and democracy when they present themselves? Is he going to use his popular support if he gains it when and if he becomes the President?
I am doubtful that he is who many would like to believe he is. So far as I can tell, he did not stand on the only promise he made that was tested till now. He and his team said they won't accept a "governmental decree" from the Leader. But when he was reinstalled by the Gaurdian Council after the Leader demanded the Council to reconsider his qualification, he chose to get around the problem by announcing he did not consider it a "decree." Yet, the fact that it was not directed at him personally did not reduce anything in the nature of the Leader's letter. Not only that, Moeen chose not to set any conditions for his participation. By doing so, not only he could muster huge support for himself and the democratic movement among those who wanted to vote for him as well as the ones supporting a boycott due to the ineffectiveness of past experiences, but also he could demonstrate his seriousness in business before he is even given the chance in the office he is running for. Instead, he chose to give scattered promises of whose seriousness and possible realization no one can be sure.
The only practically positive move in his campaign has been to form a "Front for Democracy and Human Rights." But even that is too little, too late, especially as the main bodies behind it, Mr. Moeen's Islamic Participation Front and the Islamic Revolutionary Mujahideen Organization, have set participation in the elections as a precondition for other groups and organizations who may want to join it.
I hope I am mistaken, especially if a majority of the electorate are going to vote, and if Moeen is going to be elected eventually. Otherwise this election could hinder the struggle for democracy though intentions are diagonally in the opposite direction.
Stalin's iron fist in Russia effectively boosted the Russian resistance against Hitler and saved many lives but he was also responsible for death and effective shortening of many other lives as well. President Bush was reelected this year despite the last minute predictions of polls and projections of many political analysts. History seems to follow no pattern.
The lesson is that there is simply no lesson to learn(*). Politics due to <put your favorite reason here> is not a deterministic game.
There is no guarantee of what is going to happen to Iran after this presidential elections and many of the heated debates going on about boycott or supporting a specific candidate are at best superficial.
I know this was a lousy post but I thought the nihilistic nonchalant should have a voice as well.
(*) Reminds me of "We learn from history that we never learn anything from history," as Hegel said.
Those who promote participation in the coming election have only one argument to present. According to them a boycott of the elections would throw the reformist camp out of the last bastion of power left and would permit the hardliners to take over the entire power structure and form a uniform and monolithic front. This would mean the defeat of the gradual progress to democracy in Iran. So despite all the disadvantages of the reformist camp and their candidate Moeen, the pragmatic and reasonable decision to make is to vote them in power again and stop the hardliners' total victory.
In this article I try to show why I believe this is not true and why voting in this election would be a mistake for anyone who wishes to see Iran move towards freedom and democracy.
If we accept the scenario of the pro-election factions, we must ask the question why the hardliners even risk having a reformist in the competition in the first place. If he is going to be an obstacle to their plans of power, why not get rid of him altogether since they have huge amount of powers within and outside the law? What happened however was the opposite. The Guardian Council first barred the reformist candidate from running for presidency. (Contrary to many later claims, this move was in accordance with the constitution, which at one place demands that the elections be supervised by the Guardian Council, and in another place acknowledges this very Council as the sole authority to interpret the constitution.) He was then allowed to continue to run with a direct decree from the Supreme Leader personally. Since the hardliners have evidently both power and the "law" on their side to accept or bar any candidates they please, why did they go to all this trouble to keep their foe in the race?
One possible answer could be that the Leader himself is not a hardliner, but a reformist at heart. This is actually what the future vice president of this reformist candidate seems to believe. But then if the Leader is a reformist and he has all the power of the country, even power to act outside the constitution, granted to him ironically by the constitution itself, why do we need to vote for the reformists in the first place to keep the reform going. After all, the Leader has managed to stay in power for the last 15 years, so he has definitely real resources beside the "law".
The other possibility is that the Leader is trying to divide the number of votes of another rival this way, for example that of Rafsanjani and his camp. If so, then we are already faced with a division within the hardliner camp that is so deep that one faction is using the supposed reformist thorn in the eye, to fight the other faction. This is already in contradiction with the monolithic and uniform hardliners front we are being warned against.
Again a possible answer could be that they have fractions and rivalries within themselves, but are unified against the people. That begs two remarks. First of all, we still wouldn't be faced with a monolithic front. After all, the rivalries could be used to weaken the whole structure especially when they don't have this shared reformist foe to unite them anymore. The events since the last two elections support this assertion, a point to which I will return. The second remark is that in such a case one faction evidently has such deep enmity with the other that they are willing to use the reformists in their battle. So, why shouldn't that be the case in the future as well?
There have been two elections that where boycotted in practice by the people: the municipal elections and the last parliamentary elections. In both of them the hardliners won almost all the seats. Back then the same arguments were used to invoke the people to vote, the same grim scenario of a hardliner-dominated regime who would stifle all the progress made were told and retold again and again. It is now two years past and the society still enjoys a more lax environment. Actually the tone and content of the speeches and demands of the hardliners have become much more in line with the new atmosphere. They wear chic dresses, talk about reform in religious views to accommodate modern life, relations with the US and so on. At the same time, the reformists themselves admit that Khatami didn't use his supposed power, especially in the past two years. They say this to contrast it with their own candidate that now promises to be different. So here is another question. The reformists were not elected because people didn't bother to vote, and those in power chose not to use the power they had for the causes of the reform, and yet the situation seems better now than two years ago. How is this possible if the only shield protecting the people against a fate worse than death is to have the reformists, no matter how incompetent, sit in power positions? On the other hand, we can see very clearly the fractions within the hardliner camp, again in contrast to what the pro-participation group is saying.
Therefore I think the reality is very different from this scenario. What accounts for the lax environment and the soft talk of the hardliners now is their fear of the American presence at their borders and the disillusionment of the people. (They know very well that they need some way to keep the huge youth population in control, especially with the ever increasing rate of unemployment. The system knows that it can't go on as a monolithic power structure indefinitely.) As long as these two elements exist, not voting will not change the present condition for the worse. Another factor is the regime's attempt to gain nuclear power. They will try to keep the present situation intact as long as they haven't achieved that goal. An important aspect of this balance is the image of the reformists in power positions, who at the same time declare themselves loyal to the present constitution, the Leader and the ambition towards nuclear energy. This way the regime will maintain the subtle legitimacy it has won since the election of 1997.
This brings us to the third point. Those supporting the elections consider the issue of legitimacy as irrelevant, since according to them everyone inside and outside Iran already knows this system as illegitimate and yet during the past 26 years this has led to nowhere. First of all this is not true. All the gradual moderation of the regime, from the ceasefire with Iraq to the present concessions were all partly reactions to outside pressure such as US sanctions and their almost total isolation in the world. This is a matter of legitimacy. Before the 1997 elections Iran was in total isolation. The European countries had called their ambassadors, Iran was under a US embargo and even Saudi Arabia, Egypt and most of the Islamic world shunned the Islamic Republic. After the election with the large turnout, Iran made close ties with the Arab countries, build bridges with the Europeans and the US embargo was not followed outside the US. Even the US tried all it could to open relations. All of this happened under the excuse of a reform movement and an elected side of the regime fighting an unelected minority.
If this is not buying legitimacy, I don't know what is. Ever since that election things are different. The regime itself based its legitimacy in the world arena on the popular support for its tamed constitutional reformism. As a result, given the 1997 turnout and later elections, the boycott now would definitely be a blow to the subtle legitimacy the regime has bought for itself. In the precarious situation after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the pro-democracy movements in other countries of the region, this could be a very heavy blow.
Even the pro-reformists admit that all the power and advances of the so-called reform movement is due to people's demands and the desire for change. Well, the people are still here and so are their demands and desires. This can be focused again and turned into political action towards a referendum once the whole chapter of reform within the system is closed. It can't go on as long as a sham reformist mirage is hanging there to divert attention.
Another question worth asking is what Moeen voters would have done if Moeen had remained disqualified? According to the logic of bad and worst they should still have voted for the least bad among the remainig candidates. But many of them would have abstained in that case. As Tajzadeh declared after Moeen's disqualification, they would have considered the elections as void. Now this is interesting. Obviously they believe there is more in the Moeen's camp than not being the worst. But is that so?
It is important to note the background and the present attitude of the reformist candidates in this light. They have proven time and again that they will not stand firm to win any substantial freedom or democracy. Even now after being qualified like this, they still fail to demand any of the necessary conditions for even the slightest real reform, from the unconditional release of political prisoners to the formation of a truly overarching front against tyranny. It is also interesting to remember that all this new, slightly more radical and different stand points are taken only after they were banned and reaccepted, with the goal of winning votes. If none of this had happened, they would not have stood for even this much. How can they be trusted to remember even the insignificant new promises they are making right now, once they have won the votes they are craving for?
This is not surprising. How can they be any different, since they insist on working within the current constitution. Here is a good article to show what this constitution really amounts to, both logically and in practice. It can very well be argued that by giving false promises, bringing real courageous forces in front and then leaving them alone and vulnerable they frustrate the forces of change and do more harm to the whole movement than any possible good.
Putting the pieces together now explains why the Leader asks for the reformists to be accepted, why the regime tries so hard to present a milder face in the days before the elections and is so desperate for gaining votes for no matter which candidate. It is unfortunate that no specific plans exist at the moment for after the boycott, but that does not change the main conclusion. It is worth reminding that this lack of organization is partly due to the continuous effort of those who try to revive a dead corpse and to take us down a dead-end alley once more. After the election there would still be many opportunities to build upon the general consensus towards a referendum.
This is why I believe the only logical and pragmatic choice right now is the absolute boycott of the elections.
Yesterday, on June 4th, Iranian Association at the University of Toronto held a lecture on the upcoming presidential election by Mr. Mousavi Khoeini, the former reformist member of Iran's 6th parliament. It was very ironic that the speaker who had come from Iran urged the audience to boycott the election, whereas many of the Iranians who live in Canada argued against him by saying that participation in the election is the best way among all the possible ways.
Mr Mousavi's argument, like most of the others who support the boycott strategy, was that people's participation would only strengthen the legitimacy of the current regime. The president cannot do much in the power structure of Iran and a reformist president such as Dr. Moeen would only increase the tensions among different parts of the power. This would finally end up the country with a non-efficient government. However if people boycott the election, the coservative leadership loses its legitimacy and will give up to the people's will.
In my opinion, Mr. Mousavi fails to explain how exactly the regime will accept the people's demand after the low turn-out in the election. There seems to be an uncertain gap between these two events and boycott supporters do not have any plan for this time period.
When Mr. Mousavi was asked whether he is still happy about voting for Khatami twice, he said yes by reminding people how everything has improved since then. He then faced a question from the audience how someone can justify voting for Khatami but wants not to vote this time. The power structure is now the same as eight years ago. If voting strengthens the legitimacy of the regime this time, it had done the exact same thing four and eight years ago. If one can justify voting for Khatami by mentioning the positive changes over these years, he should be able to justify voting for Dr. Moeen for the same reasons.
There was a political activist among the audience who talked about his experiences. He said that since many years ago, he had boycotted the election because he didn't want to give legitimacy to the regime. He said that however nothing much had happened over those years till people actually participated and voted for Khatami and that was the start of real changes in the country. He now wonders how boycott strategy would do any good.
Those who boycott the election believe that Iran's problem cannot be solved unless the constitution changes for a more democratic structure. Even if this is true, the question is how not voting will make changing the constitution easier? Is the idea some kind of velvet revolution? Does a velvet revolution work in a middle eastern country with significant oil resources? This probably needs another post.
Free Thoughts on Iran has made some additions!
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