Blogging the Iran election – Immediate Aftermath
Well folks, one of the newfound freedoms afforded to me after the completion collapse of my bid to pass Intermediate Microeconomics is the freedom to follow shit online & get all excited about it. Yesterday and today I have been consumed with following the Iran Election. Thank God for my iPhone as it’s allowed me to stay connected to #IranElection on twitter 24/7, yes I’m a Mid-East politics junkie like that.
What started out as a campaign full of hopeful promise for change has so far ended in ruins. First a disclaimer: I have no pretensions, I realise that most of my Persian friends, the blogosphere, the twitterverse, the politicos and more or less everyone else I’m in touch with was pro-Mousavi (or pro-Karroubi) all along. I have not yet heard from even one person supporting Ahmadinejad. So I’m under no pretension about lack of bias. Yes, my information is biased, I can’t help it.
Bit of background. Iran is what’s known as a theocratic regime. I’m not going to go into all the details of the incredibly complex political system but here’s what you need to know. The country’s power hegemon is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei controls foreign policy, the armed forces, the nuclear program and more or less any really controversial or important topic. The President is like the second-in-command and has executive power over the country, executing certain domestic & economic affairs. All presidential candidates are vetted by the Council and the Supreme Leader before they are allowed to run. For more information on Villayat-e-Faqih and the rest of the system, please consult your friendly oracle of oracles.
The conservative incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who we all know and love emerged as the main candidate, along with the preferred reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi. There was an other ultra-conservative candidate (Mohsen Rezaee) and another reformist candidate (Mehdi Karroubi) but they seem to have mattered even less than Mousavi in the end. The run-up to this election saw fiery debates with allegations of corruption flying in all directions, actually more-or-less general mud-slinging. We saw a letter drafted from the very powerful ex-President Rafsanjani to the Ayatollah and the Council demanding something be done about it the mud-slinging that was damaging Iran, in his view. So yeah it got pretty heated.
On the other hand, what was not at all heated, was twitter, the press & the Irani-English-language blogosphere. Shit maybe I just read the wrong blogs and opinion pieces but I saw not one word of praise for Ahmadinejad. I saw some interesting ideas though including:
– Sources high up in Israeli politics are saying Ahmadinejad is their preferred candidate. This is because they know the nuclear program and anti-Israel posturing is unlikely to change if Mousavi is elected, however minus Ahmadinejad’s crazy rhetoric & holocaust-denying bullshit… which is kinda useful to Israel for mobilising support against him.
– Marc Lynch, in a rare moment of over-simplified and inaccurate analysis, suggested that there may be a “Mousavi effect”. Lynch agreed that little to no impact would be felt on negotiation over the nuclear program, but felt that Mousavi might reach out to the Arabs (unlikely given Khamenei’s control over anything that actually matters in Foreign Policy). Lynch also analogised this election as similar to Bush vs. Kerry 2004 where many outsiders were so disappointed with Bush’s re-election that they decided maybe it was the US population that is to blame for US policy since they validated Bush with an electoral mandate. Fail, again… I don’t think anyone expected this election to be entirely without flaw, and what we’ve seen so far seems to be suggestion it is immensely flawed. Besides, the people have no electoral power when it comes to Khamenei. Anyone with half-a-brain knows not to blame the Iranian people for that.
-Foreign Policy’s Karim Sadjadpour had the following comparison to make of Ahmadinejad:
An Iranian Joe Six-pack who intertwines religion and populism and infuriates urban elites — think Ayatollah Khomeini meets Sarah Palin — Ahmadinejad’s supporters are the Iranian equivalent of American evangelicals: a small percentage of the population with outsize political influence given their high voter turnout.
While his divine inspirations, lack of introspection, and polarizing rhetoric have frequently earned comparisons to George W. Bush, what’s unclear is whether Ahmadinejad is the Bush of 2004 (who got the benefit of the doubt) or the Bush of 2008, whose legacy was shunned even by his own party. There are increasing signs of the latter.
So another FP writer makes a Bush-Kerry comparison. Hmmm. It does make sense though, i mean many people don’t even know a great deal about Mousavi’s policies but will vote for him just so they can get rid of Ahmadinejad. Very Kerry, if I remember correctly. Most people were less pro-Kerry than they were anti-Bush.
– There is also the issue of socio-economic disparity, also from Sadjadpour:
Absent credible polling, however, Iran’s political landscape is difficult to decipher. In elections past, much has been made of the gap between affluent-middle class North Tehran, and working class South Tehran. The real disparity, however, is between Tehran and a few other urban centers (Iran’s blue states) and the rest of the country (Iran’s red states).
Certainly, and as I mentioned above, the information we get over here through our little laptops & modems is pretty biased as I’m fairly sure that poor working-class Tehran-ites and rural Iranian farmers aren’t too big on the whole twitter thing just yet.
But anyway, enough of all that run-up analysis mumbo-jumbo. As you’ve probably heard by now, the facts (as they are interpreted by our friends in the Irani Government) speak for themselves. All the preliminary figures I’ve seen so far (vote count still going but based on these figures, there is no chance it’ll change) all have Ahmadinejad winning in a massive landslide. Wtf right? I dunno, I’m not there, I can’t judge.
What I can tell you is that we have heard extensive reports of irregularities, fraud and vote-rigging, here is a summation:
– Several districts, especially in Tehran and in polling booths internationally (yes expat Persians can also vote) have mysteriously run out of ballots halfway through polling… Coincidentally these are the very same districts that were landsliding to Mousavi in a big green blaze of glory. What gives?
– The SMS network in Tehran went down a full 24 hours before polling began. Ostensibly this was too quell rumour-mongering (campaigning was forbidden during that period by all candidates) however they are still down after voting has finished. Smells more of the regime’s attempts to quell any popular discontent/protest organising that… y’know… might appear, or something…
– The balloting system itself was really super confusing weird, they were allowing people to vote using a coded number given to each candidate, but then each one was assigned two numbers… but then the numbers seemed similar… and it was unclear which number to write… and i dunno… Joe Klein, followed by a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog explain further:
The candidates are listed by name and by number…and also by code. You vote by writing down the candidate’s name and then his…what? Number…or code? No one is quite sure. The leading reformer, Mir-Hussein Moussavi, has the number 4 and the code 777. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has the number 1 and the code 444. So the question arises: If you vote for Moussavi and list his number as 4…have you actually voted for Ahmadinejad? And why on earth have they devised such a complicated ballot in the first place? [Joe Klein]
A vote for Moussavi with the number “4” could be easily changed to a vote for Ahmadinejad, by adding two more fours after it, changing it to “444”. Likewise, a vote for Moussavi of “777” could easily be changed to a vote for Ahmadinejad by adding a triangle to the top of each of the sevens, turning them into slanted fours. Look at a hand-written seven — it’s the bottom half of a four. [Daily Dish]
– We’re talking about a voter turnout of 75%+. I dunno if that’s some kind of official record but everyone is saying it’s unprecedented. Polling data from BBC Persian at 13 June at 7:13 AM Tehran time has Ahmadinejad leading with 65% and Mussavi on a paltry 32%. Most of the opinion polls were split between the two candidates and the massive wave of support we’ve seen for Mussavi would at the very least indicate a closer contest? There is also the question of how they managed to count so many ballots so fast by hand, Iran is not Lebanon population-wise. Some reports on twitter about Ahmadinejad apparently gathering 5,000 votes compared to Mousavi’s 2,000 in Mousavi’s own home village. It’s all sounding very shady.
So yes it seems that all is not well in the Islamic Republic. People are angry, sad, disappointed, depressed, resentful, disillusioned, whatever. Not happy. What’s going to happen now? Will there be wide-spread protesting, rioting in the streets, revolution, etc.? I don’t think so. There will be some dissent, I’m sure, then it will be crushed by the methods we already know about. Already there are reports of Basiji (basically club-wielding goons sent by the regime) out on the streets and the Governor of Tehran announcing any political gathering tonight is illegal. So *sigh*. Others are predicting that this will be the beginning of massive in-fighting within the Iranian political establishment and a new era of defiance within the population that will eventually spell the end of the regime. Not sure about that but we will have to see.
For now, these tweets pretty much sum up the feelings I’ve been reading:
UPDATE 3:50pm: Holy crap there are now rumours of an abduction of Mousavi on the Foreign Policy blog of Laura Rozen: peep it yo:
An international human rights group says that it has received unconfirmed reports that Mousavi may have been taken into custody by Iranian intelligence officials.
“We were told by very reliable sources that Mousavi was detained on his way to meet the Supreme Leader by members of the intelligence ministry and taken to a safe house to prevent him from making any public announcement,” Hadi Ghaemi, of the Hague-based NGO, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told The Cable.
(A source who just spoke to someone who went to the Mousavi headquarters said the person disputed that Mousavi was detained. The situation is not clear.) [FP The Cable] [Thanks to the Majlis blog for the heads-up]
Can they really be this brazen?
Rumour about Mousavi’s abduction has now been quashed (thanks again to The Cable), apparently Mousavi’s daughter mentioned on Facebook that he’s fine and he’s at the election HQ. Meanwhile, there is now talk of what the Mousavi/Rafsanjani camp is going to do now:
“They calculate, they need to do this first, before they do a public fight for two reasons: 1) a public fight can get extremely nasty. It will be seen as a collective threat to Khamanei’s authority. And 2) secondly, this is what Rafsanjani and Karoubi did last time, both of them protested and refused to accept resulsts at first and it went nowhere,” Parsi continued. “So they seem to calculate that they have to go the quiet route first. If went directly into the streets … it could have been a pretext to clamp down. They don’t want to do that without assuring themselves that they have no other options.” [The Cable]