Iran heads for its own Bush vs. Gore moment
Here’s why Iran is the third most Democratic country in the Middle East outside of Israel and Turkey: the polls are closed and people are shouting ‘fraud.’
I think being ‘democratic’ has more to do with the spirit of the voters than any particular set of institutions. There isn’t a single dominant political force in the country. It’s not like Mubarak in Egypt converting his country into a monarchy, there isn’t the threat of Hezbollah’s violence in Lebanon hanging over every election, and there aren’t the Sheiks who continue to command every Persian Gulf oil kingdom that engages in a democratic experiment by expanding the narrow circle of citizens who can vote. In Iran, there is a rage about Mahmod Ahmadinejad stealing the vote, and the rage is being openly expressed across a number of channels. He may still succeed in stealing the vote; that doesn’t mean the democratic spirit of Iranian voters has been defeated.
What will happen next is unclear. The supposed 66% of the vote that Ahmadinejad got (says Reuters) will probably shrink as it is verified by authorities other than the state-run mouthpieces. Consider, for instance, that with only 20% of the vote counted, according to TehranBureau.com, Ahmadinejad had about 69% of the vote – for his numbers to stay so consistent would indicate that we’re looking at a count that hasn’t really changed.
I expect that Ahmadinejad’s margin of victory will shrink. If the vote wasn’t closer than it appears according to state-led media’s projections, the reformist ex-mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, probably would not be meeting with the Supreme Leader, as TehranBureau reports from his Farsi-language Twitter feed. Something is being brokered to contain the anger of the massive number of voters who turned out to cast votes for reformist Mirhossein Mousavi. And you can see another Iranian insider lowering expectations of Ahmadinejad’s margin of victory from the high 60s to a much lower number in this AFP story:
Separately, a former senior member of the National Security Council, Agha Mohammadi, said Ahmadinejad was likely to end the day with a narrow victory, avoiding the need for a runoff.
“According to the information we have the voter participation will be 70 percent overall (of the 46.2 million-strong electorate) and Ahmadinejad will have a little more than 50 percent of the total vote,” Mohammadi said.
There was probably some fraud. Enough to push Ahmadinejad over the line? it’s hard to say. The supporters of Mousavi will say it was fraudulent, and a friend from grad school who is back home in Iran declared angrily on his Facebook page, “A NEW REGIME WAS JUST BORN IN IRAN…”
For America’s policymakers, the question will be how to channel that anger into a mechanism for accomplishing US goals with regard to Iran. Declaring angrily that Ahmadinejad stole the vote probably won’t help – once Iran’s religious leaders have made up their mind, crossing them is unlikely to do anything but make them dig their heels in harder. Finding a way to say to Iran’s increasingly younger populace, “we understand that you sought change, and we will find ways to make the Great Satan seem less Satanic so that it’s easier for you to continue making your case for reform,” that’s what is needed at this moment.