Friday, June 12, 2009

Record Turnout In Iran Election

Voting in Iran's Presidential election was heavy in all districts today. Whether in low income Ahmadinejad strongholds or middle class neighbourhoods in which his opponent Mirhossein Mousavi is favoured, there is feverish interest. Although passions run high, the election campaign has been largely free of violence.

In the computer age, the internet has played an important role. Bloggers as well as social networking sites like Facebook have facilitated political dialogue among Iranians. Whether exchanging information or simply keeping their spirits up, the internet has made the logistics of keeping a lock on the flow of information extremely difficult.

It is unlikely that a Mousavi victory would result in a seismic shift in Iran's foreign policy. The Jerusalem Post reports as follows about the stakes for Israel in today's election in Iran.

"Whether the winner is incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his reformist challenger, the former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the consensus in the Israeli defense establishment is that the centrifuges in the underground bunker at Iran's Natanz facility will continue spinning and enriching uranium. In contrast to Israel, where the focus when it comes to Iran is overwhelmingly on the nuclear program, domestically, the elections are more about growing unemployment - estimated at close to 20 percent - and runaway inflation, which recently topped 30%. "

It should be noted that Mousavi is a veteran of the 1979 revolution and a former Prime minister. He is not a dissident freshly released from prison or a guerilla fighter who has traded his fatigues for a suit. Like Krushchev at the 20th Communist Party Congress in 1956, he is part of the political establishment working to reform a system that he believes in.

Additional issues in Iran's elections are the role of Iran's ubiquitous "religious police" and their sweeping powers to pull people over and ticket them for anything from a woman who is bare headed to a couple that is walking down the street together without the saving grace of marriage.

The western press has reported Ahmadinejad as being a favourite of poorer voters. Like in the west, Iran has its own version of "stimulus payments" such as government subsidies of gasoline and bread prices. Ahmadinejad has not been averse to using 'checkbook diplomacy" to get a lock on the vote.

Labour unions have a far less rosy view of Ahmadinejad, who champions an "Islamic" view of worker's rights to organise and to strike in defense of their rights which leaves workers with little power and has resulted in the imprisonment of labour activists.

A pressing question is the rights and treatment of Iran's non Iranian ethnic groups, which comprise together around 49% of the population. No Iranian prime minister is likely to grant autonomy to any of the ethnic regions, but it is possible to hope for kinder tratment of minorities such as Iran's ethnic Arabs, who currently have no right to any public or official use of their language or public practice of their customs.

A lot is at stake for Iran's religious minorities such as Zoroastrians, Yazidis, Jews , Bahais and Mandaeans. Even moderate and secular Muslims want to enjoy a range of free expression that westerners take for granted but is cutting edge in Iran.

The political centre has shifted a great deal since the 1979 Iranian revolution. No reformist is going to challenge the status of Iran as an Islamic nation. Reformers in communist countries such as Czechoslovakia's Alexander Dubcek advocated "communism with a human face" or "goulash communism". The situation is similar in Iran. A large section of the population is fairly conservative religiously. When Mousavi's wife campaigned openly for women's rights, that was pushing the envelope for many. Holding his wife's hand in public was considered downright racy. The symbolism of such small signs might be lost on westerners but they are highly significant to Iranians.

The Revolutionary Guards and the Islamic clergy are not solely concerned about religious values, the Great Satan and the Little Satan. Denouncing infidels is big money. When a heretic or a Zionist lackey is denounced and imprisoned, all of his property is confiscated by the clergy and dished out to government loyalists. In more than a few cases, covetous competitors have used religion as an excuse to defeat a competitor. Such corruption has poisoned the political as well as the business climate with even the apolitical and the pious fearful of government corruption.

In 2005, election turnout was around 47%. Many boycotted what they felt were rigged elections. No one is advocating a boycott this time around.Election turnout today is expected to top 80%. Demoralised opponents are not likely to be Ahmadinejad's silent allies. As of this writing, both sides are claiming victory and trading charges of voting irregularities. If there is a runoff, which seems likely, it will be closely watched. Today's election is of critical importance on many levels for both Iranians and for the world. Thus far, it has been peaceful. Hopefully, it will remain so. Sphere: Related Content

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