Monday, June 15, 2009

Taking It to the Streets

Imagine, if you will (and why not?) a Presidential election between a hard-line conservative and a reform-minded moderate.

Got it?

Okay. Now imagine that although the polling showed things were neck-and-neck between the two, the conservative won by a two to one margin, and was declared the winner only five hours after voting ended.

Sound a bit like the 2000 election here in the US?

Well, not quite. The elections mentioned were held in the Islamic Republic of Iran last Friday, between incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his main opponent, Mir-Hossein Moussavi. While opinion polling's a bit iffy in Iran, all the portents pointed to it being a close race.

Voting was by paper ballots - that's paper ballots, people; not electronic devices. And the turnout was heavy, something on the order of 40 million voters (by one report) in Iran and in the global expatriate community.

Now is when the fun starts.

The Interior Ministry called the election for Ahmedinejad only 5 hours after the polls closed, which was instantly fishy. There's no way, no way in hell, you can count even a good representative sample by hand in 5 hours, let alone call the election. But they did.

Moussavi's supporters cried foul and are still crying foul, the fourth day after the election. Thousands of people have hit the bricks, fighting with riot police and setting fires as they protest the results. Although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei at first endorsed the election, he has since called upon the Guardian Council to investigate the allegations of massive fraud being made by Moussavi and his supporters. Meanwhile, the people are keeping up the pressure, with some daring to say that the Supreme Leader be replaced.

Iranian democracy's a bit odd, to most American eyes. People vote for representation in the Majlis, and vote for a President. But the President wields very little actual power; that is held by the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. A cynical bastard (like myself) might see this as somewhat analogous to what we saw in the Bush Administration - we voted for the Congress and the President, while Cheney and a small cabal of neoconservatives actually pulled the strings in camera.

How will all this turn out? Difficult to say; there are reports of injuries and even deaths as a result of the post-election violence. The government has closed down a lot of the social-networking sites and blocked most communications out of the country, but enough word is filtering through to cause a certain amount of viewing with alarm in Iran's neighbors as well as the EU and the United States.

We have to stand back and let this run its course, people; we can't afford to piss the Iranians off like Bush did by loudly suggesting that the voters over there shouldn't pick Ahmedinejad. The upshot of that, of course, was that the people voted for the guy Bush didn't want.

I like to think that Obama's smarter than that.


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