Friday, May 4, 2012

Post #257 - Polls Apart

Last Friday, Iranians went to vote for members of their national legislature, which begs the question, why do we hear so little these days about elections in Iran? The A.P. reported: "Conservative opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already won an outright majority of seats of the new parliament in the first round of elections held in March. Only 65 seats in the 290-member legislature are still in contention."

We hear that the sanctions are biting, and any scrap of "news" that floats in about their nuclear program, whether verified or not, but virtually nothing about the future of Iranian leadership -- a critical factor, one would think.

In 2009, coverage of their elections was huge. Even though, as Nina Hamedani of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported, "The U.S. has no interests section, consulate or embassy in Iran. As a result, American media and diplomats are absent from the situation on the ground, raising the question of how much they really understand about what is happening in Iran, and why...", that did not keep our media from plastering "inside" stories all over our airways.

We did not hear much about the presidential debates in 2009, or the corruption allegations made against Rafsanjani, or the poll by BBC and ABC which indicated "an 89-percent voter turnout and a 2-to-1 advantage for Ahmadinezhad nationwide." (in an article by Hamedani). But we heard lots about street demonstrations and violent suppression (the journalistic adage applies: "If it bleeds, it leads.")

We heard about the Green Movement (sounds fresh and environmentally-correct, doesn't it?), but not about the fact that their leader, Mousavi, "helped form the Islamic Republican Party in 1979...served as party secretary and chief editor of the party paper..." and was appointed by Khomeini to the Iranian Council of the Islami Republic, a body formed to guide the new government. Mousavi served as prime minister. "His wartime administration during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) tolerated no public demonstrations of popular dissent," Hamedani reminded us.

We heard that Mousavi planned to disband Iranian state television and do away with the basiji, but little about his substantive policies on foreign relations or the economy.

As Hamedani pointed out, "American analysts failed for the most part to explain the many incentives to vote in has been a duty and responsibility of citizens ever since 1979, representing a distinct break from dynasties and inhertied rule...a stamp on one's voter record [is important] as a sign of loyalty to the Islamic Republic (in case one wants to start a business, for example."

Further, she said, "it may surprise many Westerners to know, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have a history of fixing votes -- in part, perhaps, because the Guardian Council's vetting of candidates ensures that any extremely unfavorable individuals do not become candidates."

The person who said "No one in their right mind can believe" the results of the June 2009 elections -- Grand Ayatollah Montazeri -- was also the one favored by Khomeini as his successor.  Hardly a johnny-come-lately to IRI politics.

In short, most of the people "covering" Iran don't know enough to really analyze electoral activity in the country. The same people who declared Dewey president, who didn't see Floridian chads and the Supreme Court decision coming in 2000, and who thought Newt Gingrich would stay in to the bitter end, make futile attempts to unravel a much more complex political environment in an isolated country halfway around the world.

One Iranian voter in the recent round of Parliamentary elections was quoted (by AP) as saying, "I voted for the group that will help more jobs to be created. Ahmadinejad could not bring more jobs. We need some people in the parliament to push him in a right direction." In other words, "it's the economy, stupid." Maybe our commentators should start looking at Iranians more as human beings like us, and the Iranian government as something quite different from ours; they might guess right more often.

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