2005 Iranian presidential
elections and the media
July 25, 2005
It is estimated that between 18 to 20 million Iranians did not
vote in the recent presidential elections in each round. Given
the fact that the Iranian population is highly political, critical
of its regime, and in many ways affected by the outcome of any
political event, the boycott must be understood as a political
That is especially true when we remember that these
people did not respond when many of the country's authorities
and religious leaders presented participation in the election as
national and religious duty. Even the presence of so many choices
for the office of the president did not deter the boycotters.
A very small percentage could have failed to vote simply out of
lethargy, but the vast majority of the above number purposely
boycott reveals a few points thus far ignored in political analyses
of the elections. First, this disfranchised segment of
the society is the base that could have helped one of the reformist
candidates win. In particular, Mostafa Moin, who, though he campaigned
on a radical reformist ticket, failed to mobilize this segment
of society and convince them to vote. A mere one million or so
additional votes given by the boycotters could have sent him into
the second round (if we believe that the election was not completely
Second, in addition to all the limitations imposed on
Moin's campaign by the officials and pressure groups, he suffered
from the fact that almost all of the other candidates usurped
his slogans, thus creating a sense of laisse-faire among the boycotters.
Finally, it was, of course, counterproductive that so many candidates
ran on a reformist ticket thus splitting the moderate vote.
reformist candidates and in particular Moin failed to address three
arguments that any visitor to the country during the election
could hear on the streets of Tehran from the boycotters and others.
The first argument was that voting for any of the candidates translated
into voting for the entire regime. The second was that even if
the most radical reformist was elected, he could not do anything
in the face of the unelected officials who possess the real power.
Third, the outcome of the election has been decided from before,
and Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani would win no matter what.
The unity of
these arguments among persons from diverse backgrounds and classes
was amazing. Iranians can be changing their minds at
the last moment in not only the matter of elections, but also regarding
issues of daily life. In elections, many of them make their final
decision in the "over time," or the "dead time" using
a terminology from soccer, i. e., during the last 24 hours prior
to the election when the campaigns must legally stop. (This was
especially true in the case of those who voted for the president-elect
Mr. Ahmedinejad, who was behind in polls conducted prior to election
day). However, prior to the first round election, these arguments
could be heard in taxis, in lines at stores and offices, at family
parties, and most loudly in the oppositional media. One could not
help but wonder about the unanimity of these arguments.
of the media, the Los Angeles-based Persian satellite TV and radio
stations relentlessly forwarded the above arguments
against the presidential elections. For many weeks prior to the
election a choir of voices shouted that the regime's oppression
of people and alleged terrorist activities means that to vote was
to support legalizing an unlawful regime. These satellite TV stations
were not alone.
Oppositional journals and websites belonging to
all sorts of groups participated in this media blitz. They reviewed
the regime's 26-year record through the use of sound, image,
music, and documentaries to remind people that nothing has changed
the beginning of the 1979 Revolution. They also benefited from
and amplified the participation in the boycott of such prominent
personalities as Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner,
Simin Behbahani, an acclaimed poet and outspoken woman activist,
Ganji, the most prominent political prisoner.
Some of the stations
managed to interview a couple of academic scholars to bolster their
arguments for making Tehran on election day look like a "ghost
town." It became clear that even though normally people watch
these TV stations for their dancing and singing programs, they
also pay attention to the political views they espouse during a
political event. They perhaps did listen to the commentaries with
great interest and rapt attention since the official TV and radio
stations in Iran would not cease promoting the elections as a duty
and urging people to participate. People were caught in a veritable
media war between stations based in Iran and those broadcasting
Moreover, it is perhaps possible only in Iran for
the government's mass media inside as well as for its opponents
outside to both
pronounce victory after an election. The government's media declared
victory saying that 60 to 63 percent of the nearly 45 million
eligible Iranians voted. The LA-based TV and Radio stations similarly
victory saying that most eligible voters did not participate.
oppositional media refused to understand that the fate of the
Iranian people would not be determined through voting or
that it would depend on how deep the discourse of reform and
modernity penetrated Iranian society. They did not talk about
the fact that
so many candidates presented themselves as reformist, and this
was indeed an essential outcome of process of political development
even though it did not benefit the reformist camp immediately.
A tangible result is perhaps the fact that the president-elect
who represents the fundamentalist camp (but was voted in
by many more Iranians who did not want to see more of Mr. Hashemi
who were tired of corruptions, who were persuaded by some
of military to vote for him as a people's man, etc.) has
not so far declared a policy of nullifying reforms already achieved.
has, indeed, confirmed his intention to continue with similar
policies. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding: all
with contradictory anticipations, have now to glue their
eyes on President Ahmadinejad.
Talattof is associate professor of Near Eastern Studies
at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Jerome W. Clinton was professor
of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.