Sunday, June 14, 2009

some thoughts on the iranian election

my initial thoughts about the results (or maybe "results") of the iranian election are as follows:

(a) we'll never know for sure whether the election was stolen or not.

(b) i think it was probably stolen.

(c) regardless of whatever really happened, this election will be remembered in the west as a stolen election.

this post by gordon robinson is pretty interesting. before i read it, when i thought "stolen election" i was assuming that meant the supreme leader of iran and his council (i.e. what is often referred to as "the mullahs") intervened to fudge the numbers to make ahmedinejad the winner. that's what robinson calls scenario number one. i hadn't thought of scenario number two, where ahmedinejad's administration stole the election as part of a move to consolidate power over the entire iranian system, including the mullahs. it's a fascinating possibility. in essence, the difference between #1 and #2 is that #2 moves the mullahs from perpetrators to victims of the fraud. #2 would also mean that (assuming the coup withstands the current backlash) iran's weird hybrid system of democracy and theocracy is effectively over. #2 puts iran in the category of run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

running in the background of all of this is the islamic republic's two decade long record of running fairly above-the-board elections. even though the mullahs out rank the president in the iranian system, they seem to have respected the results of presidential elections (at least until now). in past elections, even when the candidate they don't favor wins the mullah's have still declared the one with the most votes the winner. the mullahs weren't rooting for mohammed khatami in 1997 or 2001, and yet he won both elections and served both terms as president. the mullah's also favored akbar rafsanjani over mahmoud ahmedinejad in the 2005 election, but ahmedinejad was still permitted to win. true, all candidates in every presidential race has to be pre-screened by the mullahs before they even get on the ballot, but the general rule seemed to be that the mullahs would permit any candidate who cleared the screening and got the most votes to take office.

until maybe now. before i read the robinson piece, i was wondering why this election was different. why would the mullah's steal the election this time when they let the electorate choose people who weren't their first choice other times? my best guess is that iran's unusually animated election campaign unleashed public dissatisfaction to an extent that frightened the mullahs. if the mullah's had stolen the election, it wasn't because they feared mir-hossein mousavi as much as it feared his electorate. it was that feat that caused the mullahs to intervene now when they hadn't before.

that was basically the theory i was operating under until i read robinson's scenario number 2. now that i've read it, i'm not sure what to think.

NOTE: i edited the post. originally, my three points at the beginning were numbered (1), (2) and (3). i've change the post to mark them with letters (a), (b) and (c). upon second reading of this post, i realized that the list of three things at the beginning of the post could get confused with what i later call "scenario one" and "scenario two." the scenarios actually refer to the first two scenarios outlined in the gordon robinson post. i don't know if i caught it before it confused anybody, but i apologize for the confusion if it did.