Sunday, June 07, 2009

Iran's Presidential Election is Next Week

Results of next week's presidential election are important to US-Iran relations and determining what Washington's next moves will be in that part of the world. Although Iran's form of government is not what Americans understand as a model representative democracy, it is not nearly as autocratic as most of us imagine. The pronouncements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, inflammatory as they are, do not represent the best qualities of that country's electorate and although the clerical authorities have the power to countermand anything he says, at some level they, too, have their fingers on a popular pulse that may not always reflect the brightest and best that Iran offers. (No American should have to be reminded that convoluted politics, demagoguery, conflicts of interest and old-fashioned blind negligence is endemic to all political systems. Other systems may be corrupt but our own is far from perfect.)

Following Iran's elections four years ago I took a close look at the results. My interest was piqued by the close ties between big shots in Baghdad and their Shiite friends in Tehran. American troops in Iraq were purported to be there to fight Al Qaeda, not to threaten Iran. (There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq previously, but that is beside the point.) But there was something odd to me about what I was reading. If Iran and Iraq had been in a protracted and very bloody war that lasted eight years, what was all this buddy-buddy stuff happening now?

In Iran election comments the day before Independence Day, 2005, I gathered a string of commentary from Iranian writers and others regarding the results of their recent election of Ahmadi Nezhad (his name later to morph into the now familiar Amnadinejad), former mayor of Tehran and a populist of the brightest stripes, as the national president. Looking over the list I had two impressions..

First, most of them expressed surprise that the guy had done well enough to be elected. Rarely do the great unwashed to whom voices like his appeal get organized or energized well enough to put someone like that into office. (We see it happen with regularity in grindingly poor countries -- I'm thinking Haiti, Venezuela, many so-called "developing" countries, a misnomer if there ever was one -- but not as often in places where ecomomic conditions pull the safety net up well enough that those at the bottom do not suffer as much. With its oil wealth and large parts of the population awash in comfortable (if frowned upon by the clerics) manifestations of modern culture, Iran was not supposed to be in that category.

Second, after being surprised, several of the commentators interpreted his election as a positive change toward political improvement. More participation in elections, even on the part of voters who may have elected the wrong man, was a good sign. Actually that was a bland excuse for a bad outcome that had more to do with apathy on the part of those who knew better. I came away with the feeling that those whose apathy had allowed this rube to be put into office would not let it happen again. Next time those who had been so careless would not let it happen again. (I recall how embarrassed a lot of people in Georgia were upon the election of Lester Maddox, the famous segregationist, as governor of the state in the late Sixties. Mortified, they were, but too late.)

Within months of Ahmadihejad's election there were indications that some people were having regrets, even in the Clerical group that supercedes the secular government in its authority. Check out a post from December 2006, the following year, Iran elections update -- Updated again...

Iran's moderate former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has won election to Iran's powerful clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, results show.

With more than half the votes counted, Mr Rafsanjani, who was defeated in the 2005 presidential election, had a clear lead at the top of the list.

The election - and simultaneous local polls - was seen as a test of support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Well the next presidential elections are next week and we will see if my impressions were accurate. Ahmadi Nezhad has had four years to consolidate his power and polish his image and is running for re-election, but he is not without opponents. We all know from the recent incident with journalist Roxana Saberi that the authorities there are not as old-school tough as many would have us believe, and despite stereotypes their system that can be pliable on occasion.

Here are some links I came across this morning about next week's presidential election in Iran.

Kamran at View from Iran posts Yes, I will vote

In less than ten days, millions of Iranians will go to the polls to participate in what might be the most important election since the revolution thirty years ago. I want to vote because I believe that it is a fundamental right to use every democratic tool we have to try to influence change in our beloved land. This is especially true even when the options are not our dream options. The government of President Ahmadinejad has show and created a situation, nationally and internationally, that can easily get out of control and have disastrous effects for the country and the people we love.

I don’t believe in these people and do not think any of the candidates can solve the enormous challenges we face, but I am still voting. During the past thirty years, our rights as Iranian citizens have been constantly under attack. This has been true despite many promises of protection and invitations to engage in the building of our society.

I am voting with the hope that not only the hardline government will change, but that we will build a more democratic society where women’s rights, a free press, free speech, and human rights are not a dream. Last 4 years proved our right can be in more danger than we could even imagine.

Being part of this initiative was unthinkable for me just four years ago. Four years of right-wing Ahmadinejad has put Iran on a downward path. I believe that Iranian expats should play a more constructive role and not keep waiting for some magical transformation of power.

Let’s make a change. Let’s vote.

One entire paragraph of his post was hyperlinked to Vote for Iran, a site dedicated to the election aimed at Iranians who are being urged to vote for change. Where have we heard that line before?

The 12th of June Iranian presidential election can become a historical moment for our country. Iranian people can make a choice. For many years the basic right of our nation have been violated time after time: our civil rights, freedom of speech, and free press. The Iranian people can make a choice. The miserable situation that Iran is in, nationally and internationally as well as politically and economically can change for the better. Sending the government of President Ahmadinejad home on election day and voting for a reform candidate (Mousavi or Karroubi) can send the message that Iranians are ready to join the world community.

* The Iranian diaspora can play an important role to influence change in Iran.
* Together, we make up a loose-knit community of 4 to 5 million Iranians all around the world. Our vote can make a difference.
* Every vote counts.
* You can gather friends and go to vote together.
* You can call family and loved ones in Iran and encourage them to vote as well.
* Each one of us should participate in this election.
* Let’s make change happen!
* Let’s vote for a better Iran.

Check out the link. It's as good as anything in US politics, complete with pictures and videos supporting the effort to vote for change. I don't sense any specific candidate is running as an opponent, but the message is by default that anything is better than what they now have.

Our Twelve-Year Chinese Cycle editorial from Tehran

Twelve years ago, in 1997, in less than six months people voted a candidate into office who was little known in society at large. Those few months were enough for them to size him up and to get to know him. The gains of {Mohammad Khatami}'s first administration was perhaps not so significant to the third generation of post-revolution Iranians; after all they were simple demands, but for my generation they were consequential. We still had the bitter taste of the years of repression and contraction under our tongues. The prescription of Freedom had been filled in such a rush as to be forgotten easily. We went through a period of terror. The only colors that could be seen in public were black, brown or dark blue. The air was stifling.

Suddenly, our hearts started to warm up. Our fears lessened. Tranquility showed it face to us. We had a smiling president to behold. We distanced ourselves from bitterness, violence and anger. Courage began to make a show. And there was something called hope in our hearts.

We were ordinary people whose demands were minimal. It was the story of life in its ordinariness through and through. We had left our ambitious demands for the future, for them to be met at a slower pace. We cherished the realization of our simple demands. We weren't politicians. We were ordinary people. Perhaps the reader would dismiss my arguments as "raw sentimentalism," but I was a small witness to a change in the nature of governance with the last election that put us at the end of a line whose end was nowhere in sight, a line that wouldn't move an inch. The new president promised a society filled with joy and happiness. There was agitation, disquiet and intensity in his delivery.

From its very inception, the presidential election of 2003 was doomed to bring ominous results. We, ordinary people, strove to prevent this from happening and we couldn't. Those who called for a radical change in the order of things disappeared from view and left hopelessness behind. When we shouted the name of the reformist candidate on the streets of Tehran, we weren't thinking of a single person but a huge wave. It was at nine o'clock on the night of the election that we learned of our defeat. On that night, tears washed our disbelief and anger.

Hopelessness has a way to creep in. You realize it when it has already done its job. A film director, a researcher and writer who become disinterested have lost hope. They flare up with the slightest provocation. They won't tolerate more insults.

When indifference sets in, one must become apprehensive. When childish achievements become norm, they re-appear as jokes in emails and among the public. With every joke the process of self-deprecation intensifies.

Close to four years have elapsed and we have burrowed into our cocoons more and more. We have become sadder. Writers wrote less. There were less literary awards to go around because nothing of significance appeared in bookstores. Many books were not given permission to publish and collected dust. Our cinema, which had at some point been prized for its distinguishing marks, didn't produce any important works. Trite comedies like The Outcasts I & II, make by a paramilitary member with a terrible reputation, broke all kinds of records at the box office while a well-respected director gathered all his anger and shouted it When We Are All Asleep. All those who were asleep never saw the film. Those who were champions of an alternative cinema went into hiding. This hopelessness slowly enveloped us. Hopelessness will not disappear when you have more films, TV series, and hackneyed comedies. Books are not bought if their quantity in print increases. Newspapers and magazines that had something significant to say fizzled out. And many other developments over the past four years that I won't have time to enumerate. Our voices have never been stifled completely. We are not living in a vacuum; we are just hanging in mid-air.

Twelve years have passed since the election of the smiling president. The Chinese calendar has a twelve-year cycle. I can only hope that our unpredictability as a nation can stop the runaway train of the dour president. We ordinary citizen have no passports to leave the country.


"Setade Ma" (Our Campaign) is an online volunteer movement of concerned Iranians who want to play a role in deciding the future of Iran. You can join us from your house in this cyber space. We want to advocate civic participation by encouraging Iranians to vote tin he upcoming Presidential Elections, 12 June 2009. Setade Ma is focusing on a big phone campaign that was launched 4 weeks before the election and we are hoping to grow among people and to make our votes have an impact on the results of the Election.

"ستاد ما" یک حرکت خودجوش مردمی است و از همه کسانی که می خواهند در تعیین سرنوشت کشورشان سهیم باشند دعوت به همکاری می کند. شما هم در خانه خودتان به ستاد ما بپیوندید و با تلفن دوستانتان را تشویق به رای دادن کنید. تعداد داوطلبان ستاد به شکل هرمی به سرعت زیاد می‌شود که تاثیر گذاری آن را مرتبا بالا می‌برد. این روش در انتخابات مهم دنیا جواب داده و اگر هر یک از ما ۵ نفر را جذب ستاد کنیم این ستاد آنقدر بزرگ میشود که بتوانیم نتیجه انتخابات را تغییر دهیم، همانطور که در خرداد ۷۶ نتیجه انتخابات را تغییر دادیم.


The young contributors from Iran to Mid East Youth talk about all kinds of topics, but their recent focus has been on the upcoming elections and what changes that might come about. Check out the post headlines and spend a few minutes evaluating what young people on line are saying.

Finally, this is a press release from Vote for Iran dated June 3.

In just a few days, Iranians will go to the polls to elect a new president. This has been an historic campaign with unprecedented use of new media for campaigning and communicating with voters inside and outside Iran. Chances are, this election will also feature the highest turnout of Iranians living abroad. Vote for Iran ( is a project to communicate with Iranians in diaspora. It has no ties with the government of Iran.

What was unthinkable just four years ago is a reality today. People like us, who disagree with the Islamic state and are great supporters of human rights, recognize the need to participate in the presidential elections in Iran. Four years ago, we were not actively promoting the electoral process in Iran. Four years ago, we did not imagine bringing family and friends with us to the embassy to cast our votes. This election is different, though, and that is why we have created Vote for Iran (

The 12th of June Iranian presidential election can become a historical moment for our country. Iranian people can make a choice. For many years the basic rights of our nation have been violated time after time: our civil rights, freedom of speech, and free press. The miserable situation that Iran is in – nationally and internationally as well as politically and economically – can change for the better. Sending the government of President Ahmadinejad home on election day and voting for a reform candidate (Mousavi or Karroubi) can send the message that Iranians are ready to join the world community.

Domestic issues are the key to presidential elections both in Iran and the United States. Almost four years ago, Ahmadinejad was elected to respond to corruption in politics. He promised honesty and more equitable sharing of Iran’s oil wealth. Despite a plethora of domestic issues including runaway inflation and the high jobless rate, this year Iranians will be sending a message about whether or not the country will engage with the West.


Tori said...

Thanks for this post. I was in Iran during the last elections, which was an amazing experience for me. What I discovered is that even without democratic institutions, Iranians know how to send messages through voting. I am really interested to know what message will be sent this year.

I hope that they will vote out Ahmadinejad... but we will see.

resolute said...

I wonder if you are Iranian?

Hoots said...

If the question is for Tori I don't know. Maybe you can find out at her website.

As for me, I'm born and reared in USA and, except for one family trip to Acapulco, have only been outside the country to serve a tour of duty with the Army in Korea.

Tori said...

My Iranian friends sometimes joke that I am more Iranian than they are, but I'm an Amrikaee through and through, right down to my immigrant grandparents.