Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iranian elections: fraud?

I was surprised to see the widespread accusations of voter fraud in the Iranian elections as, in its own terms, Iranian democracy is normally a pretty smooth affair. After all, if the Guardian Council can veto any candidate before they even get onto the ballot paper you don't need to stitch up the vote itself.

Take Rafat Bayat, an MP who had put herself forward as a candidate. She's essentially a conservative who is critical of the current government for it's economic mismanagement.

The Guardian Council have previously stated that there is no legal bar to women standing for the position of President and that "women have submitted their names to the Guardian Council during previous elections and the GC disqualified them only because they lacked the general qualifications".

So Rafat Bayat seemed in with a chance. Her politics were within the acceptable range and she has previously been permitted to stand for a lower position. Sadly she was not among those deemed 'qualified' for the role - but the fact that four men were should not lead anyone to assume this was on the basis of her gender. Supposedly.

When we come the these results the idea that the regime has a need to indulge in electoral fraud seems uncharacteristic but, and this is important, not impossible. Mousavi is the candidate of moderation who'd engaged with young people in a big way through mediums generally frowned upon like YouTube, twitter and the like. The government then barred access to these sites and that doesn't bode too well.

But Mousavi is not someone who wants to shake things up, but rather calm them down. He was the Prime Minister for years presiding over some of the most horrifically reactionary policies you might care to imagine. It's just he's not as keen on confrontation as his rival and so he would have been a mild improvement.

Indeed barring websites and riots on the streets are often indicators that there was a certain amount of democracy lacking, if you'll allow me a moment of understatement. The difficulty, of course, is that the Iranian government lies just as the Western media lies about Iran - which leaves us in a difficult position.

The Western media says that there was widespread electoral fraud, I think it would be extremely unwise to accept this at face value. Likewise if the Iranian regime, who appears to have curtailed democracy on a stronger scale than on previous occasions, simply announces a landslide victory for the incumbent we have to treat that with caution too. I'm sorry if that sounds like I'm hedging my bets.

There was a widespread expectation in the West that the moderate would win and when he didn't there is sympathy for those who say he must have been cheated out of the Presidency. Personally I don't think this is based on anything except wishful thinking.

It seems that over 900 people have been arrested on pro-democracy demonstrations and I support them whether or not the result is fraudulent because the entire nature of Iran's democracy is, frankly, undemocratic but that doesn't mean Mousavi definitely got more votes - it only means that at least a significant number support him, which even the official figures show.

If protesters are then rounded up and arrested that's a terrible crime against democracy whether or not they are factually accurate about the total number of votes for each candidate. Personally I would have been very happy had Ahmadinejad been sent packing by the electorate but I'm not prepared to simply accept either side's propaganda in order to confirm my own prejudices.

This was an undemocratic election, make no mistake about it. Candidates barred from standing, online media blocked, not to mention the fact that on a day to day level the ability to build political opposition to the regime is constantly hampered. The rioters deserve our support because they are voicing their frustration at a society that consistently curtails their democratic rights. That just doesn't mean their guy necessarily got more votes.


ModernityBlog said...

I saw some figures on the distribution of votes, they looked a bit funny, too contrived but not sure. You'd best exercise your fine statistical mind on them.

Either way, we can see the reaction to the possibility of vote rigging as a catalyst for the pen up dissatisfaction with the dictatorial regime.

Good luck to them.

Benjamin Solah said...

Good post.

I was surprised and inspired at the reaction in Iran to the election. It's a pretty big step for people to suddenly erupt like that given the repression.

I want to throw up at the West's comments though, as if none of those leaders would crack down on similar protests in their own country.

ModernityBlog said...

I think what is more surprising is the lack of in-depth comment on the British "anti-imperialist" blogosphere, despite days of coverage in the mainstream media.

You might have thought that they would welcome a revolt against the repressive theocracy in Iran? But it's not clear if that's the case.

Or if after making excuses for the Iranian president in the past that they can bring themselves to criticise him now?

Allegedly the Iranian president has "anti-imperialist" credentials?

So despite his conspicuous racism, reactionary views on gays and women's rights, etc Ahmadinejad is often given a pass in the West because of that.

I am surprised that people who can normally see through the motives and double dealing of their own leaders and yet seemingly can't employ those critical skills with Ahmadinejad and the ruling clique in Tehran.

Jim Jay said...

I think things have been moving pretty fast and sometimes people spend so much time reading the news to comment on it (I know I do), having said that a lot of far left blogs don't normally allow ignorance of all the facts to stop them blogging :)

Certainly Hopi (linked to in post) came out with a statement very quickly and that's partly the benefit of having actual left wing Iranians who know what they are talking about.

I think as time goes on I'm more convinced that electoral fraud has taken place but that doen't mean the news is unbiased. For example the telegraph had a -particualrly stupid article today saying A. actually came third - that's just nonsense - he does have real support it just may well not be majority support.

Most importantly what is clear is that protests and political opposition is being violently oppressed an we have to be clear in our opposition of this.

An interesting dynamic going on is that the support of Mousavi, a very pro-regime politician is, by necessity, having to oppose the regime and is pulling in all kinds of pro-democracy / discontents and becoming an expression for something far more.

ModernityBlog said...

as you say, Jim, "a lot of far left blogs don't normally allow ignorance of all the facts to stop them blogging"

But I am not talking about the electoral process, rather the people's REACTION to it.

If this size of revolt had occurred in say, France, (or Turkey) there would be posts up all over the place before you could say "Bon Jour".

I think the old political compasses are not working and it is uncharted ground so many "anti-imperialists" don't know what to say, (or haven't been told)

I thought the HOPI stuff was good, which is why I reposted it and I was a bit slow myself, I then looked around for coverage of events, a bit more information, etc and I couldn't see much, which surprised me.

If you remember the riots in Greece recently, they were covered almost immediately, so when I didn't see much on the revolt against the Iranian State I was a bit confounded.

I think many "anti-imperialists" don't know how to deal with the contradictions between their desire to support Ahmadinejad as some supposed "anti-imperialist", a slight disgust at his racism and ultraconservative views, and then those revolting against him.

Jim, that's not so much of a problem for you, as you can think on your feet, but that's not the impression I get from a lot of other "anti-imperialists".

I might well be wrong, but that's what I am seeing, a certain reluctance to back the revolt and an unnecessary preoccupation with who the Western leaders support (along the lines of "so if the West supports X, we should support the opposite"), which is a bit silly.

I'd just welcome as much coverage as possible as I think whatever happens it is an important time for Iranians, and I wish them well and shot of their dictators.

Jim Jay said...

Well, it could be because the 'opposition' candidate is a complete reactionary and therefore it's not as simple as Greece or France. However, sadly I think it's a product of the bizarre position of the stop the war coalition where they have equated criticism of the Iranian regime (even by Iranians) with a desire to bomb it.

It's a shame because we should all be able to support the slogan 'regime change begins at home' but parts of the left have fetishised the idea that all comment on Iran has to steer clear of anything that undermines the regime - as if anyone cares what a load of pasty bloggers has to say anyway :)

Juan Cole is very good

ModernityBlog said...

I think you are right, that StWC position is not very clever or nuanced. Shame about the amount of influence they have, it so limits critical thinking on the wider British Left.

Thanks for the link to Cole, I'll check him out.