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Iranian elections 2009

15 Jun 2009 09:20

The candidate preferred by the media doesn't always get elected. This probably explains why the elections in Lebanon saw much rejoicing in the West for the success of the so-called pro-Western 'moderates', even though the electoral system massively discriminates against one (largely anti-Western) religious group — the Shi'a.

One week later, the return of a staunchly anti-Western presidential candidate in Iran provokes howls of outrage from the press because it was against what most Western media pundits had forecast (and hoped for).

'We write Mousavi, they read Ahmadinejad.' 

I am not for one moment implying that Iran's presidential elections were completely fair (the subjective approval of potential presidential candidates by the Council of Guardians being a significant impediment to true freedom of choice), but the media frenzy over the authenticity of the results does smack a bit of an unwillingness to countenance the fact that Iranians may have voted contrary to the way that Western media outlets expected them to.

COMMENTS

15 Jun 2009 10:57

What a difference an election makes. And I'm not talking about Iran's contested effort, but the one Australia conducted in late 2007. Before that poll, then-Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd was ready to take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the International Court of Justice for inciting genocide.

Yesterday, it seems, Prime Minister Rudd would not even countenace the possibility of electoral irregularities in Iran, treating the re-election of Ahmadinejad as a fait accompli. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has yet to make a statement about the poll.*

Rodger Shanahan regards this as an 'appropriate' response. But why the rush? Yes, the clerical establishment and security forces will probably win the day over any popular movement, but why pull the rug out from under the feet of the reformists so early? US Vice-President Joe Biden's recent statement suggests the US is yet to make up its mind about the validity of the poll, and it's hard to see how it could harm Australia's interests for us to do the same.

COMMENTS

15 Jun 2009 13:53

My colleague Rodger Shanahan argues that the election result shows that observers outside Iran, and Iranians who parse the country for the outside world (few of whom would have been Ahmadinejad voters), underestimated Ahmadinejad’s support and were engaged in wishful thinking.

He points to what is often called the 'north Tehran syndrome', where Western observers extrapolate their view of the country as a whole from interviews with middle class, English-speaking inhabitants of the capital’s up-scale neighbourhoods. This was true in the 2005 election, but as this blog post from Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation makes clear, at least one Western journalist did leave north Tehran this time around, and found far from uniform support for the incumbent.

Flynt Leverett argues that the margin of victory, while surprising, makes it unlikely that the usual forms of vote tampering that often take place in Iranian elections, and which might swing at best a few million votes, had been used to rig the election result. 

COMMENTS

15 Jun 2009 16:43

In my previous post I presented circumstantial evidence suggesting that something much more irregular than usual occurred in Iran’s weekend presidential election. We may never know for sure what happened, though what transpires over coming days and weeks, especially what occurs to key figures like former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani as well as the candidates from this election, will give greater or lesser credence to the theory of a coup.

Since the revolution, the regime has relied on imperfect, unfair but reasonably competitive elections to demonstrate its popular legitimacy. If hardliners have carried out a coup, then someone has decided they no longer need legitimacy and can rely on coercion. They may well be right, at least in the short term.

As has been widely reported, there have been outbreaks of mass protest in Tehran, with a few reports of demonstration elsewhere as well. Some of these protests seem quite large, as shown in this YouTube footage, though on its own this is probably not going to trouble the regime security forces much. 

 

COMMENTS

18 Jun 2009 10:12

The author has served as a foreign official in Iran.

We can be sure of very few things about the recent unrest in Iran, but one thing we know is that we aren’t seeing the full picture. Foreign media has been restricted from reporting freely on the demonstrations. For fear of losing their broadcast licence — and hence their ability to report at all out of Iran in the future — they are, with immense frustration, toeing the line. This means that we are left with Facebook updates, Tweets and YouTube videos to see what is really going on.

Judging from what I’ve seen from videos and photos sent to me from friends in Tehran, the violence is serious. What is less clear is how widespread this is. You only have to look at the photos of the vengeful beatings administered by the basij — the regime’s thuggish volunteer militia — to see that almost everyone on the receiving end has a raffish, gelled haircut and brightly coloured clothes. 

Attempts at fashion are the preserve of the North Tehrani elite. Until we see ordinary Iranians in dull, colourless clothes and unfashionable moustaches burning motorbikes, we can surmise that this unrest is limited in participation, and therefore most likely in duration too.

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