President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the Iranian election on June 12. Perhaps by not as great a margin as the official 62.63 per cent of the vote to Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s 33.75 per cent, but near enough as makes no difference.
A canny campaigner, Ahmadinejad knew his constituency would not be found among the middle classes of the capital, Tehran. Rather four years assiduous work in the provinces, meeting town councillors and village elders, promising a bridge here, electrification there, ensured he had the votes to overcome his opponents.
This brand of naked populism has earned him the enmity of the Tehran elites and even elements among the senior clerics, who see the President as playing a dangerous game that may shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic. Others in the anti-Ahmadinejad camp are simply fearful that a grassroots movement may endanger the privileged positions they have established for themselves since the revolution of 1979.
Were there voting irregularities? Almost certainly, you can’t conduct elections in a country like Iran without a bit of biased manipulation going on at individual polling stations. This resulted in some strange outcomes such as 103 per cent turnouts which have been seized upon by Western media as evidence the whole system is fatally flawed.
As for the result contradicting pre-election opinion polls, most taken within Iran in the lead-up to the vote were designed for the single purpose of boosting one candidate or another, with outcomes ranging from a 62 per cent to 25 per cent win for Ahmadinejad to a Mousavi victory by 57 per cent to 23 per cent. However, a poll commissioned by the Washington Post, conducted by telephone from outside the country three weeks before the vote, and likely to be more accurate than most, predicted an Ahmadinejad win by slightly more than the final result.
This leaves the vast pro-Mousavi demonstrations that took place in Teheran and other major cities in the wake of the election outcome. They were certainly impressive and the brutal crackdown by the Government and its supporters ensured they were longer-lasting and angrier than they otherwise might have been.
Mousavi did gather some 13.2 million votes nationwide and reportedly did very well in the capital, so maybe the turn-out of around a million at some of his rallies was not so surprising. Ahmadinejad’s supporters were present in far smaller numbers, but then, as the winners, they had little to get stirred up about.
So Iran and the world will have to get used to President Ahmadinejad still being around for the next four years, but his Government, and the senior clerics of the Guardian Council who exercise ultimate power, will ignore the events of the last few weeks at their peril. One of Australia’s leading commentators on Iran, Hossein Heirani-Moghaddam of the Australian National University, goes further by saying they represent the biggest challenge to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
“There were always many voices within Iran, but in the past there was no uniformity,” he said. “This was the moment when different groups and factions came together to show to the world that Iran is not a monolithic entity, that there are other voices that need to be heard, both by the Government and the international community.”
These voices are calling for change. At the moment it is for change within the system, but that could easily be radicalised if there are not moves to accommodate them. Former British intelligence agent Alastair Crooke is right when he says events following the poll have largely been misinterpreted by the West.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times Crooke says the demonstrations were not a frustrated East-European style “colour-revolution”, such as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, nor an uprising of liberal Westernised sympathisers against the principles of the Iranian Revolution.
“Rather, what we have been seeing is a power struggle between factions of the ‘Old Guard’ clergy … that erupted into public view in the recent presidential election campaign,” he said.
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