Every four years, since 1980, the Iranian presidential elections take place. In the early days of the Islamic Republic, the process was not well understood.
In Iranian politics despots are a natural phenomenon; there was already a non-elected “Supreme Leader” in charge with all the powers of the State, so why bother to elect an ineffective president of the Republic by universal suffrage? And why, after the elections, have an even more useless prime minister named? An impeachment (Banisadre in 1981) and an assassination (Rajai in the same year) did not bring a clear answer.
However, the redundant function of prime minister was later deleted from politics, and rigged elections at all levels set out the blueprint of Iranian politics. There was one boss: the Supreme Leader, an infallible sanctified figure tucked away in inner cycles; there was his temporal puppet, a president good enough to take all the blame for the failures and face the outer world.
Iranian Presidential Elections: Führer orders?
Once the blueprint was understood by all, the presidential election became a national nuisance to be held every four years. The electoral body chooses from a handful of Shiite men from Tehran, short listed by the clerics and approved by the Supreme Leader, the Führer.
Voters in the provinces – some 80% of the country – have had no say in a centralised tyranny. The spirit is a parody of the freedom of universal suffrage: on ballot day, some vote because they believe they are carrying out a religious commitment, bowing to the Supreme Leader’s wish; civil servants vote to keep their jobs; students have to vote if they are keen to finish their curriculum unhindered; and many illiterate and uninformed vote because some busybody tells them to – and also tells them whom to vote for. For many in the Iranian intelligentsia, at home or abroad, the president and its elections are petty matters best ignored. In the last 30 and more years, two elections were significant.
During Khatami’s pre-election campaign of 1997, many town dwellers believed him to be the president to achieve radical changes in domestic affairs. They were soon disappointed. Once elected, Khatami’s cosmetic changes to civil society were not enough. The squashing of students’ protests in 1999 and tougher laws to muzzle critics and protesters put an end to Khatami as a reformist hero. In 2009, Ahmadinejad ran for a second mandate. The religious establishment and people were expecting another uneventful election. But the brewing discontent burst into the public domain; there was a surprisingly large turnout and soon the claims of rigged elections were voiced. Effervescent town-dwellers protested in the streets. There was a pressing need to channel the energy to positive actions through proper guidance from the challengers of the dictatorship.
That did not exist, either in Iran or abroad. Unprepared for the protests, the pale figures of unhappy candidates were overwhelmed by the events and later gagged; the clumps of opposing Iranians in the West were as pathetic and undecided as ever. The energetic response came from the Supreme Leader, backing up his minion, Ahmadinejad. Protesters and passers-by alike were stamped out by the bassidjis and shot at by snipers. Citizens were beaten, tortured, jailed, killed, and women raped. Perhaps there is just one lesson to be learned from the presidential razzmatazz: asserting to be apolitical is nonsense. If you do not take care of politics, politics will take care of you.
Years Wasted by the Haughty Iranian Opposition Clumps
Another election will be held in June 2013. Now, in late March we, the Iranian citizens, do not know the names of those for whom we are supposed to vote. Surely, the candidates will be yes men dedicated to the Vali-e Faqih and the Shiite hierarchy. The upcoming eight weeks will be a short circus, a Teherani affair, far from provinces’ potential and expectations.
This time there will be no mistakes. The theocracy is fully prepared for another round of rigged elections; journalists who might have asked cheeky questions have already been jailed or have left the country. The clerics are stating loud and clear that no trouble will be tolerated and any critical opinion voiced in public is a heresy to be punished by death. The bassidjis are geared up; snipers are taking their positions. Evin and Kahrizak prisons are standing by for more rounds of protesters.
Since 2009, what did the Iranian opposition clumps do, especially in the West? Nothing; they just sat on their hands and squabbled. For starters, they snivelled for those who got tortured, raped, killed, hardly helping out with practical deeds for the victims. Once the tears dried out, they fought each other over whether the unhappy candidates in the election were worthy reformers or just old wolves in sheep’s clothing. This was satisfactory to the Islamic republic: in fighting each other, the opposition would not bother with more important matters. Later, some countries in North Africa and in the Middle East boiled over, but they had nothing constructive to say. They did not see, or want to see, the lesson to be learned: when opposition groups are divided, when they hang onto their dogmas and push their own interests, undermining the nation’s interests, they are doomed.
Today, the dreary Iranian reflex of they are-Arabs-and-we-are-not takes over once more. Worst of all, destructive, backward-looking views advance: “We are Persians; Islam was forced on us, we had kings that were not so despotic after all; we want our monarchy back. We love each other and will be happy to get rid of the Islamic Republic forced onto us by Jimmy Carter and the West. Would you please, Mr Obama/Cameron/Holland, help us to free ourselves from the ayatollahs.”
I have NOT made these nonsensical statements. They are quotes from thousands of Iranian blogs, comments and articles voiced over the internet or published on paper. Never mind the contradictions in the logic. As Iranians we are good at defending all and the contrary in the same statement.
June will soon be here. There may be bloodshed, or there may be nothing to report, but one thing is certain: we Iranians have wasted another four years to build a credible, pragmatic force made out of our diversities to defy the Islamic Republic dictatorship. If the shrewd and despotic politicians of akhond’s breed are fully prepared to face the presidential elections, the weak, divided and selfish opposition clumps have only hollow slogans and promises to offer.
We are Iranians. More than one language is spoken in our country, and our culture is a mix of some hundreds of years’ interaction and influence between diverse cultures and religions.
The key to a prosperous future for our country is to be forged by ourselves; no foreign power can give it to us, no matter how much we beg for it. We can only achieve it with solidarity, analysis of facts and mutual trust while we still have time for it. There is no receipt for democracy except learning to know our country and its people’s diverse inspirations as they are today. A clever intelligentsia backed by Iranians and not provided for by foreign resources.
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS 2013: KEEP INDOORS
On election day, there is no point having street demonstrations and getting people injured for nothing; well-prepared bassidjis are in wait. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was done in the streets with large numbers of protesters, slogans, banners and cameras. The tyrants of Teheran master every aspect of street demonstration, crowd control and mass manipulation. We could try to fool them and disappoint bloodthirsty bassidjis by staying indoors. Let’s have ghost towns. Those of us who are NOT under pressure to vote can abstain and stay indoors, clearing public spaces and leaving cars in their parking lots. Those who MUST vote can vote in silence, slipping blank bulletins into ballot boxes. The choice between democracy and dictatorship is in the hands of each one of us. Endurance. Courage. Persistence. Imagination. Some of the ingredients to freedom among other things.
Food for thought:
Neda Soltani, My Stolen Face, 2012, E-book Edition. An account of Iranian childhood and youth in a dictatorship; the illusions of a young women shattered by the Presidential election of 2009.