Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elections in Iran? Who knew?

Yes, Virginia, there are elections in Iran. Much of the population doesn't care, according to this report by Thomas Erdbrink, Somaye Malekian, and Ramtin Rastin in The Washington Post.

Iran elections underscore split between leaders, middle class
More than two years after massive anti-government protests over a disputed election exposed a rift between Iran’s leaders and its urban middle class, their diverging worlds are again set to collide in an upcoming vote for a new parliament.

This time, disgruntled opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are unlikely to demonstrate, political analysts said, but they may not vote either, denying Iranian leaders the large turnout they seek to legitimize their rule…

As the government sees it, massive participation in the elections would deliver a “punch in the mouth” to Iran’s foreign enemies, state media have reported, reaffirming the leadership’s legitimacy after 33 years of Islamic rule.

But after years of frustration in their quest for more personal liberties, better relations with the West and adherence to the rule of law, many members of the ignored middle class are considered more likely to stay home.

For these middle-class Iranians, Facebook, satellite television and secret parties — all illegal in Iran — have combined with occasional foreign trips to create a separate reality where state ideology is ignored as much as possible and elections make no difference…

In the leadership’s parallel universe, six state television channels night after night repeat news of hope, achievements and future bliss… Documentaries showing American leaders shaking hands with Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi… are aimed at educating the millions of young people born after his autocratic rule.

News programs interview ministers who reveal double-digit growth figures and report on infrastructural accomplishments. New bridges, dams, gas pipelines and electricity for remote villages all contribute to growing “national self-confidence,” as state television calls it…

While some foreign-based dissidents have called for a boycott of the March 2 vote, the idea does not appear to be gaining active support from dissatisfied Iranians, mostly because they have already turned their backs on all things political. But that apathy may turn out to have the same effect as an organized boycott, analysts here say…

Vote to test unity of Iran's conservatives
A good turnout in the election… could provide a boost for the regime slapped with sanctions, and under tremendous pressure, domestically as well as internationally.

In the lead up to the vote, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has repeatedly stressed the importance of a high turnout to counter conspiracies from the "enemy", an elusive term that keeps expanding in scope…

As per vetting procedures, the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of mostly clerics that has veto power over the parliament, has disqualified nearly 30 per cent of those who registered, among them 35 incumbents.

The reformist parties… remain virtually out of the race, with their leaders… still under house arrest. Individual candidates with reformist leanings will campaign, but no official list of candidates has been submitted by the reformist coalition.

The election, essentially, has turned into a power struggle between the increasingly divided coalition of conservatives…

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