Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 10:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 10:46 | SYDNEY

Iran: An election turns into a quiet revolution

18 June 2009 11:42

From an Iranian observer.

Faced with the blatant manipulation of their vote by the ruling regime, the Iranian citizen has come out publicly for the first time in Iranian contemporary history to forcefully ask, 'Where is my vote?' and to demand, 'I want my vote back.'

Frustrated by the failure of the regime to even follow its own electoral procedures, Iranians are angry, but they are doing everything possible to stress the peaceful and civil nature of their protest. The rally on 14 June in Tehran, which demanded the cancellation of officially announced elections results, was unprecedented since the 1979 revolution. It attracted, according to numerous eyewitness reports, more than a million protesters.

12 June 2009 will mark something more than another presidential election in Iran’s history. It will be remembered as the day when Iranian citizens asserted their stolen sovereignty against the totalitarian tendencies of the ruling regime. It will mark the day that the Iranian citizen came to the public sphere not for the sake of an abstract religious, ethnic or nationalistic sentiment, but in defense of their individual right to vote. 12 June 2009 will be remembered as the day when Iranians translated their natural rights into citizenship rights.

The approach of Western democracies to Iran has so far been too cautious. President Obama has understandably been keen not to take sides, trying to avoid giving the regime an excuse to accuse the protestors of foreign connection. But he has to keep in mind that, at some point, the protestors will need a more articulate international support.

Any move by the Western democracies at this stage to give recognition to Ahmadinejad as Iranian president would be extremely detrimental to both the course of democracy in Iran, and the future of relations of these countries with the Iranian nation.

When, a few days before the elections, the Political Bureau of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) warned in a statement of a ‘velvet revolution’ in the making, it was right on the mark. The IRGC, of course, remained true to its pledge to use force against such a revolution; but it failed in its anticipation that this revolution would be ‘nipped in the bud’.

Despite the overwhelming power of the IRGC and its paramilitary forces, this revolution is far more extensive and much more articulated than sporadic riots. Even the success of the security forces to temporarily force a recess in protests should not be taken as a permanent victory for the regime. If the ruling system is to weather this revolution short of a regime change, it needs to make fundamental changes to persuade the public to consent to its continued rule. The sources that motivate this revolution and the demands of this movement are so deep-rooted and serious that small concessions by the regime, such as a simple recount of the votes, are unlikely to appease the public.

The electoral fraud was so blatant that even the Supreme Leader’s hasty intervention in endorsing the officially-announced results had almost no public impact. It not only did not convince the protestors to calm down, it infuriated them. Ever since, the supporters of Musavi and Karrubi have held peaceful mass demonstrations, undermining Ahmadinejad’s claims that those disputing the election results are only a small minority. The partial retreat of the regime before the protestors is also an indication of the real force of the dissent. Nonetheless, the regime’s small retreats could also be tactical, with a view to diffusing the momentum of the protests.

The regime is faced with two choices: brutal repression or bowing to the opposition demand for a new ballot. Ahmadinejad’s attacks against the powerful cleric and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who chairs the Assembly of Experts, an assembly of the most senior Shiite clergy, is a clear indication that the power base of the Supreme Leader has almost completely shifted from the traditional clerical establishment to the military and paramilitary power of the IRGC and the Basij, with a militant group of younger Islamist ideologues, including the son of the Ayatollah Khamenei, pushing for total political, economic and military control. A minority of the elderly clerics (eg. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi) have also remained loyal to the Leader.

One analysis is that henceforth there will be no tolerance for dissent in Iran, and this election might well be the last competitive election in post-revolutionary Iran. In the next stage of Iranian politics, if this analysis holds true, we may well witness a purge of the regime of not only the reformists, but also all those who may think differently from the dominant power clique, including Rafsanjani and his followers.

There is, however, a more optimistic view that sees the 12 June elections as a window of opportunity for the emergence of a strong civil society. According to the Iranian political activist Akbar Ganji, with all its negative outcomes, the June 2009 elections had an unequivocally positive outcome. It proved that under the current Islamic regime, democracy would have no chance, and that only through a strong civil society would democracy be achievable. He sees the large protest rallies on street of Tehran and other Iranian cities in defense of citizenship rights as a positive outcome that will exceed demands for a mere change in election results.

Photo by Flickr user SIR, used under a Creative Commons license.