The larger context of the 2009 Iranian elections
By Reza Fiyouzat
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 18, 2009, 00:21
Much furor is being expressed by all sides, foreign and
domestic, regarding the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections held
on June 12. The rapid announcement of the total results in a mere few hours
after the closing of the polls, came as a shock to the supporters of
Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the main �reformist� challenger to Ahmadinejad. Since
then, there have been massive spontaneous demonstrations in Tehran as well as
in other major cities, such as Shiraz, Tabriz and Rasht. At least eight people
have been killed in the clashes between the police and Mousavi supporters.
So, let�s put things in some context.
The presidential elections of June 12 were held within a
theocratic system. In this system, in order to run for a political office,
candidates must swear allegiance to the theocratic setup. From its inception,
therefore, the theocracy has divided the entire population into two major
political groups: khodi (literally
meaning, �of us,� those who support the theocracy), and the gheyre-khodi (the others). This is the
exact language used, and participation in the elections are reserved purely for
the benefit of the khodi (those who
believe in the system), who have been divided into different camps from the
beginning of the theocracy. In older days, they were split between the left
wing, conservative and the pragmatist camps, and more recently the opposing
factions have changed some of their tactics and underlying economic policies,
and are organized into the �conservative� and �reformist� camps. Within each
camp, there are further divisions.
Within this setup, I for one can state without
qualifications that �elections� cannot mean anything but a contest between
candidates that are absolutely acceptable to a theocratic establishment. This,
in turn, means that ALL elections, to varying degrees, are stolen elections,
since the participation of a huge majority of Iranians as candidates, by the
theocratic Constitution, have been preempted from way in advance. The right of
participation in presidential elections in Iran, for the past three decades,
has been stolen and securely put aside as the privilege of a tiny minority of
* * * * *
Now, let�s look at the circumstances of these particular
2009 �elections,� bearing in mind again that the election process was and has
always been unfree, to begin with.
First, let�s look at one particular opinion poll that is
claimed to have predicted a landslide win by Ahmadinejad; the poll taken by The
Center for Public Opinion.
This poll, taken between May 11 and May 20, indicates a 34
percent support for Ahmadinejad and 14 percent for Mousavi; Karrubi and Rezaee
reveive respectively 2 percent and 1 percent. However, 27 percent of those
polled did not know whom they supported. Of those who �did not know,� more than
60 percent, through their answers to other questions, were characterized by the
pollsters as �reformist minded.� Further, 22 percent of the respondents are
unaccounted for (apparently 15 percent refused to answer any questions, but the
remaining 7 percent is unexplained). That brings the potential split between
the two leading candidates at about 45 percent for Ahmadinejad and about 30
percent for Mousavi (discounting the 22 percent unaccounted).
Further, as the pollsters admitted when releasing their
findings, the most likely scenario was, in their view, one in which a second
round would be necessary, since they couldn�t see anybody having the potential
to sweep the elections in the first round.
Another major factor ignored is that the opinion poll was
conducted between May 11and 20. In politics, a lot happens in a three-week time
period. The presidential campaigns (particularly of the �reformists�) really
took off during the last three weeks, and particularly the last 10 days of the
campaign period. We know how opinion polls of equivalent elections in the U.S.,
for example, go on daily and hourly until the very last hours of campaigning.
No such follow-up data were available here, and the most telling data (those
from �the eve� of the elections) are totally missing. Anybody observing the
elections could see how much more raucous the campaigns got as the closing of
the campaign period approached.
Now, I will not go into the veracity of the kind of
knowledge you can get based on an opinion poll of a mere 1,001 people (220 of
whom are unaccounted for) in a country with an eligible electorate of more than
55 million people.
Likewise, I won�t overgeneralize my own paranoia about total
strangers calling to ask very direct questions (even when it happens in the
U.S.). But, I can easily imagine that if I were sitting in my living room in
Iran and got a phone call from a total stranger claiming to be a pollster, I�d
be very unlikely to give any truthful answers that might piss off somebody
listening to my phone conversation, a very realistic fear felt by just about
everybody in Iran.
So, at least in my book, all the above considerations taken
together mean that the actual numbers (of supporters for Mousavi and
Ahmadinejad) must have been closer than suggested by the above opinion poll,
meaning much closer than the 2-to-1 outcome in favor of Ahmadinejad. At the
least, I can be sure that a �landslide� was not a highly probable outcome.
But, we can also look at the behavior of the functionaries
of the ruling class in Iran for better indications of whether or not �vote
rigging� took place.
Before the June 12 elections, both Karrubi and Mousavi
drafted and proposed to the Guardian Council a set of additional protocols for
assuring a clean process during the elections. Obviously they had realistic
fears of fraud. But the Supreme Leader rejected the adoption of any extra
precautions, insinuating that the election procedures were transparent enough
as is, in effect chiding the two candidates for casting doubts on the
cleanliness of the procedures already in place.
Some of the procedures, however, were in fact very faulty.
According to reports, prior to the elections, �Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, sent
a letter to Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chair of the country�s powerful Guardian
Council, citing discrepancies in the run-up to the election. According to the
letter, the actual number of ballots printed for the first round of voting is
59.6 million, but the Interior Ministry officially says the number is 56
million� (Reformist candidates complain of too many ballots; Inter Press
Service, June 10, 2009). Meaning, there were at least a few million extra
ballots hiding somewhere. Given that more than 15 million eligible voters did
not vote, that amounts to about 18 million ballots that could be had
The same report also states: �Ali Akbar Mohtashami Pour and
Morteza Alviri, of the Mousavi and Karroubi campaigns� committees on poll
supervision, also said that the number of electoral stamps circulating is �twice
the number of polling sites plus 10 percent.� These extra stamps were a
particular worry since, it was argued, any attempted vote rigging could be
organized, �through use of extra ballots and stamps and through use of
additional boxes and mobile ballot boxes, especially as we have been informed
that soldiers� birth certificates have been collected at military bases.�
Also, from the above-cited IPS report: �Saeed Razavi Faghih,
a spokesperson for the Karroubi campaign, told IPS, �Inviting the
[pro-Ahmadinejad] Revolutionary Guard Corps to supervise ballot-box security
instead of the police has raised serious doubts for us.�� And these were some
of the red flags thrown up before the elections.
The Iranian filmmaker, Makhmalbaf, who worked with Mousavi�s
campaign, in interviews to different news outlets, including BBC and Radio
Farda, has claimed that Mousavi�s campaign received phone calls from the
Interior Ministry on the night of the election day informing them that they
looked bound for victory, telling them they could go ahead with preparing their
victory speech, but also asking them to not gloat too much, so as to not
humiliate Ahmadinejad supporters. If Ahmadinejad were headed for a clear �landslide,�
why would the Interior Ministry make such a phone call?
Another suspicious move was Ahmadinejad campaign�s statement
on the night of the elections, declaring that his victory was supported by the
other conservative candidate in the race, Mohsen Rezaee. The next day, however,
it became clear that was the opposite of truth, as Rezaee came out expressing
serious doubts about the announced results, and by Sunday (June 14), along with
Mousavi, he filed a complaint with the Guardian Council (responsible for
certifying election results), demanding that he wants to see the serial numbers
for the ballots cast. He must know a thing or two about how you can get
cheated. And again, this is Mohsen Rezaee we are talking about, a former head
of the Revolutionary Guards, a staunch supporter of the theocratic system in
Iran, no imperialist stooge.
Another irregularity was that, as per usual, the results
were not certified (before being announced) by the Guardian Council,
constitutionally recognized as the body responsible for overseeing the
elections, for double checking all the ballots and announcing the official
results, usually after a three-day period (to clear up any possible
What did happen was an announcement made by the interior
minister (not the Guardian Council), in a very hurried form, and despite the
fact that there were loud complaints still unresolved regarding the elections
just held. Subsequently, when reformist supporters took to the streets to
express their outrage, more than a hundred reformist leaders were detained over
The very loud and public objections voiced initially by
Mousavi are now voiced by all three candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad.
They are also joined by a large number of parliamentarians and groups of
clerics, even in Qom, the most conservative of all theocratic bastions.
Given that within the already highly restrictive electoral
procedures, the establishment�s conventional protocols were changed so much so
that it has created such a large outcry, one is quite right to suspect
something was done to tilt the results, in an unfair fashion, toward a
So, it is certainly not the case that Mousavi, America�s
candidate, and his middle class, designer-eyeglass-wearing supporters were the
only �sore losers.� A large part of the establishment is up in arms. Otherwise,
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei would not have felt it necessary to issue a
public statement insisting that the Guardian Council look �carefully� into the
allegations of vote fraud.
News reports are now saying that the Guardian Council will
indeed look into the matter. According to PressTV, �The spokesman of Iran�s
Guardian Council says the body will issue its ruling on the results of the
country�s presidential elections within 10 days.�
* * * * *
Now, it is of course true that imperialist mainstream media
have their own agenda and will take advantage of the situation on the streets
of Iran. But, what is new there? All manner of media will (as they always do)
look at any situation in Iran and
agitate their respective audiences in whichever direction they please.
And we on the left also have to do our part in
contextualizing the events. Just because the imperialist media are screaming
foul, it does not mean that everything to do with the just-concluded �elections�
were A-OK. Also, the flip side is, I doubt very much that a large segment of
the Iranian ruling theocrats are collaborating with the imperialists to
So, we need to see what is going on. I think to call it a
soft-coup is actually more appropriate than to call it vote rigging. �Vote
rigging� has meaning when the election process is at least half-free; when
explicit religious requirements are put upon candidates before they can even
run for office, this does not meet the minimum requirements for an honest
election process. What happens in Iranian elections is a very careful selection process, first carried out
from above by the Guardian Council, followed by a vote-getting process, which
approves one of the already selected.
So, �rigging� votes is explicitly inscribed into the
elections, period. A majority of the Iranian population is legally banned from
running for the office of president (no women allowed, ever). I am, therefore,
at a loss to see such a process as anything but fundamentally rigged.
Those on the left in the U.S. who are screaming in defense
of the �integrity� of the elections in Iran, and talk about our duty to �respect
the decision of the Iranian people� assign unrealistic characteristics that do
not exist to the Iranian elections.
I wonder how the U.S. left would characterize any elections
in the U.S., which first and foremost required of the candidates an explicitly
avowed allegiance to the Bible and Lord Jesus Christ (with a particular
denomination�s scriptures, mind you), and banned all women, all other religious
persuasions, and ALL secularists from running for the post of president? The
fact that the left cannot mentally juxtapose the two situations, points in my
view to latent racism. The thinking is akin to absolute cultural relativism,
which assumes that surely those rag-heads over in Eye-ran don�t mind a
theocracy. �After all, it is in their culture!�
Well, it is not in
our culture, and we do mind
theocracy. The evidence of it is on the streets of Iran right now.
* * * * *
There is a history to remember here; the history of
skin-shedding that this theocracy has witnessed. Here, I am not talking about
all the thousands of the opposition members executed, or jailed and tortured or
else chased away. I am talking about the internal purges.
One famous coup d��tat against one of their own that took
place very early in the life of the Islamic Republic occurred in June 1981,
with the �impeachment� of Banisadr, the first post-revolution president, by the
parliament at Khomeini�s instigation; Banisadr went underground and eventually
escaped from Iran, and currently lives in France. Later, in April 1982, there
was a coup against Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a close aid to Khomeini during his exile
in France, and a foreign minister; he was accused of plotting to kill Khomeini
and summarily executed.
There was also a famous coup against Grand
Ayatollah Montazeri, one-time designated successor to Grand Ayatollah
Khomeini for the position of Supreme Leader. Montazeri had both revolutionary
and impeccable religious credentials (as a grand ayatollah, which is like a PhD
in the field). Despite (because of?) his supremely high qualifications, he was
causing constant headaches for the heads of the theocratic setup. In an
interview published in Keyhan, �in early 1989, [Montazeri] criticized Khomeini
in language that is said to have sealed �his political fate�: �The denial of
people�s rights, injustice and disregard for the revolution�s true values have
delivered the most severe blows against the revolution. Before any [post-war]
reconstruction, there must first be a political and ideological reconstruction
. . . This is something that the people expect of a leader.�
Further, when after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, a massive
wave of rushed political executions engulfed Iran�s political prison houses,
Montazeri was among the most high-ranking critics of these mass killings. The
Wikipedia entry for him explains further: �Still worse was the publication
abroad and broadcast on BBC of [Montazeri�s] letters condemning post-war wave
of executions in March . Montazeri also criticized Khomeini�s fatwa
ordering the killing of author Salman Rushdie, saying: �People in the world are
getting the idea that our business in Iran is just murdering people.�
By the end of March 1989, Khomeini had heard enough, and
declared that Montazeri had �resigned� from his position. Montazeri went off
graciously asking his supporters to not utter a word in his support. Khamenei,
at the time a mid-ranking Hojatoleslam
(equivalent of an undergrad degree), was speedily promoted in religious ranks
to an Ayatollah so as to qualify him
for the position of vali-e faqih
(guardian jurist), and that�s how the current Supreme Leader Khamenei got to be
We can conclude, then, that skin shedding, metamorphosis,
periodical transformations and adaptations to the perceived conditions in the
world are a systemic characteristic of the rulers of the Iranian theocracy.
The reason I say that a �coup� is more appropriate to talk
about than �vote rigging� is because it�s more realistic. I think the
government of Iran realizes that despite Obama�s reconciliatory gestures, the
overall posture of the imperialists toward Iran has not changed fundamentally,
so they don�t view this as a time to lower their guard.
The system, as it is, cannot be reformed without some major
pain. The most basic reforms of any kind and magnitude would open up a wide
spectrum of socio-political spheres that need serious reconsideration. More
importantly, any reform of the existing constitution will eventually have to be
approved first by the Guardian Council (a non-elected, appointed body), and
eventually by the Supreme Leader. This means, that unless the post of the
Supreme Leader, along with any structures standing above the parliament, are
abolished (in effect, destroying the system), all attempts at �reform� will
remain highly moot.
So, from the regime�s point of view, it is best that any
talk of �reforms� stop for the time being (if not forever), so that the state
can concentrate on more existential worries. Hence, the speedy announcement of
the results, since it was already decided what was to be the outcome.
That is how I can understand the �rigged elections� that put
an end to the hopes of the �reformers� and approved the continuation of the
Ahmadinejad presidency. All of this, of course, may change with the
deliberations of the Guardian Council, although the overturning of the
elections� outcome is not very likely.
Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at email@example.com. He keeps a blog at: revolutionaryflowerpot.blogspot.com.
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