Monday, June 15, 2009

Fallout of the Iranian Elections

Typically the elections we focus on are all in the United States, but following the highly contentious election in Iran recently, we felt it would be good to give some insight on that democratic dysfunction.

Among reports of voter fraud, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wrote in a statement Sunday “Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.”

Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday there was “some real doubt” as to the election’s legitimacy while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called the election a “sham” in a Fox News interview today.

Was the election stolen?

Unfortunately, there were no international vote monitors to pass judgment on the legitimacy of the election results, but certainly things look a little fishy.

It was considered by most election analysts to be a close election, but official results find incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won with over 62% of the vote - a landslide victory.

It was also an unusually big race. There was an 80% turnout on Election Day and polls had to stay open for an extra 4 hours to make sure everyone could vote. The campaigns spent millions of dollars (possibly more than $100 million) making it the most expensive in Iran’s history. They also took a cue from the Obama campaign with new methods of voter contact and ended up sending over 110 million text messages per day by then end of the race.

But polling was often unreliable because both campaigns used internal or friendly polling as propaganda. One of the only truly independent polls - conducted by ABC/BBC pollsters in mid-May - found Ahmadinejad leading main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi by a 34% - 14% margin with 27% undecided.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered the Guardian Council to investigate claims of voter fraud. Yet the Guardian Council answers to the Ayatollah who has already confirmed the results of the election twice - thus they’re unlikely to disagree with him.

It’s tough to say whether the results truly reflected the will of the people. Much of the race came down to a class struggle, with the poor supporting the populist Ahmadinejad and the middle and upper class elites supporting Mousavi. Iran currently has a 12.5% unemployment rate and about 20% of Iranians live under the poverty line.

This would suggest that perhaps the results of the election are more legitimate than Americans believe. In fact, Iran has long been one of the few countries in the Middle East with a well-functioning democratic system - even if it’s only partially democratic.

Still, Mousavi was complaining about the prospects of voter fraud before Election Day, and with no independent international verifiers, it cannot be confirmed.

Now Iran is posed to lose their democratic privileges altogether. The ongoing protests could easily be seen as a direct challenge to the Ayatollah’s rule. As a result, police have beaten and even killed rioters while opposition leaders have been imprisoned.

Ultimately, we have to reiterate the written statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. All we can really say about it is that we obviously hope “that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.”

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