the devil you don't (quite) know?
Iran elects Ahmadinejad
June 27, 2005
The British say: "A week is a long-time in politics."
Two weeks ago like many observers looking at the Iranian political
scene from a bird's
eye, I wrote: "Various unofficial polls suggest that the percentage of
votes to the reformist candidates may be so low that even if the elections
went to a second round (with Rafsanjani getting less than 50% of votes in the
round), the second successful candidate would probably be a maverick from the
conservative wing - similar to the results of the 7th Parliamentary elections
where little-known fundamentalists got the highest votes when reformists were
I was partly right, it went to the second round.
Rafsanjani faced a conservative (although the hard-liner Ahmadinejad
maverick Ghalibaf) and the reformists
The British say: "Better the devil you know". I wrote:
"Many observers believe this election to be an important cross-road
for Iran and
most agree that the election of ex-president Rafsanjani is a foregone conclusion
does not promise a great future for the country. The powerful Rafsanjani
(Iran's President 1989-97) heads the Expediency Council of the
Islamic Republic of
"So according to his wife, his current role
has been nothing short of presidency.
His dynasty has powerful commercial and institutional roles in the country.
Nonetheless in his own words, he was forced to pick-up the poisonous chalice
for Iran's presidency himself rather than stay neutral or become a 'king-maker'.
Not that Iran's constitution allows a president to presume the role of
a king - this role is still reserved for the clerical leader."
I had indeed expected a majority of people to go
for the devil they knew well. I was obviously wrong.
Not that Iranian elections, in particular this one,
is like any other elections around the world. In democracies, elections
are a serious competition between
established parties and/or their representative personalities. George
W (Bush) against Al Gore or John Carey. Tony Blair versus Michael
In totalitarian systems including Iran's theocracy, even if people are
given choices to put in the ballot box, it is generally not who they vote for
that matters too much but whether or not they vote. Elections are a vote of confidence
for the regime: Not quite what percentage of the electorate believe in the system,
but the proportion that dare to publicly express their dissent and not go to
the ballot box.
In Saddam's Iraq a few years ago, this was down to
1%. The first post-revolutionary referendum (31 March 1979) saw
99.5% of Iranians
voting for the Islamic Republic. The rest where told: "kasi ke rai'
nadAdeh, haghe nazar nadAreh." (If you haven't voted, you
to a view!). This time in Iran, even if you believe the official
results, some 20
million chose not to go to the Polls. Many, like Iranian Nobel Laurette
Shirin Ebadi, would not keep quiet and continue to defend their
Nevertheless, while real power remains in the
hands of an unelected few, it can not be said that Ahmadinejad's
presidency would not make
a difference. Clearly both the candidate and the political groupings
behind him were very much
part of the Islamic establishment.
Against the iconic Rafsanjani,
however, Ahmadinejad managed to convince a significant minority of
the electorate that he was anti-establishment
and that for the deprived masses he could offer a better and more
dignified future. Some of those voting for him, not all as he also
inherited an anti-Rafsanjani
vote, bought this and chose to go with the devil they did not know
Maybe even a minority thought: "Let's give all
the levers of power to
this bunch, and see what they can deliver!" I do NOT know. The
future is hard to predict. One thing I do expect is that Ahmadinejad's
presidency (unlike that of his predecessor)
would not last two
even that his honey-moon period may not be as long as 100 days.
But yet again how clearly can one see things from a bird’s
Sa'id Farzaneh, PhD, is a keen advocate of
peace and human rights.