Sunday, March 23, 2008

Iran's Parliamentary Elections

“Once again, the people of Iran entrusted the Parliament to the fundamentalists.” This was the headline of Keyhan, the government’s publication in Tehran. There was a change to Saturday’s headline, “Under the wondering gaze of the world, the nation’s vote broke the enemy’s back.” Keyhan’s headlines celebrated what appears laughable but, sadly, is true: “A man wrestled with himself and three of them came first,” a revision of a joke in Sepidaran, Ahmad Shirzad’s blog yesterday, reflecting the reality of our parliamentary election.

I was not surprised to read that, once again, the Islamic Republic performed its miracle, once again we made the whole world dumfounded, along with amazed, bewildered, crazed, astonished, shocked, startled, flabbergasted, and any other synonyms one can find in dictionary, although in reality it was only once that we truly shocked the world (and that only by a narrow definition of world): the presidential election of 1997 which brought Mohammad Khatami to power, and we received political plaudits in some quarters twice again, once for Khatami’s second term and again for the last Municipal election of city councils. However during the past two and half years, our president has announced an earthshaking discovery or innovation or astonishing achievement that either “pierced the eyes of enemies” or “punched them in the mouth” or “slapped them in the face” every single week. Given Keyhan’s headlines as such and Ahmadinejad’s proclamation, there should not be left any eyes, tooth, or cheeks undamaged in the world.

While inflation has been rising, unemployment is out of control, and fraud and corruption are skyrocketing (Sardar Zarei’i’s prostitution story certainly beats our Governor’s story though), and housing in at its worst, the government campaign was ticketed on the supreme leader’s aim that this election would “show our unity to our enemy by our participation in a glorious election.”

The Government and the ruling clerics have very clearly defined themselves as “principalist and fundamentalist” without any further qualifications. They never doubted their own legitimacy, tried to prove themselves, or bothered to appeal to any authority to win over this segment of the population whom they appeal to. Since the Islamic Revolution, fundamentalism has self-confidently strode into Iran’s political arena and marched backward to the dawn of Islam and successfully established all the institutions, as well as a suitable discourse, necessary for an Islamic system to function and survive.

If Parliament is used by this government’s leadership, who does not even believe in democracy, it does not surprise me. If Khamenei would craftily call on the people “to participate in election to beat the enemy,” I’m sure he has a proper audience in mind which could be brought into this. Principalists realistically targeted their potential constituency, those who believe in Ahmadinejad’s halo, the imminent ending of the Hidden Imam’s Occultation, and the location of his well, etc., and developed a core of supporters by establishing suitable institutions and discourse among them. Since the first day of his presidency, Ahmadinejad relentlessly has supplied his supporters with what they needed: the articles of superstition, witchcraft, magic, and miracles touched by superficial aspects of the faith which could be found in abundance in every religion. His campaign on this aim started right after his election and continues still. On Friday, March 14, they all returned the favor and cast their ballots for him.

Reformists, in the other hand, like an army full of generals without soldiers, walked onto the battlefield expecting miracles.

When embarrassed, they accused the pricipalists of departing from the Imam’s wishes and ideas.

When defeated, they claim the victory for having 60% of the 104 seats, according to Mohammad Ali Abtahi's blog of March 17.

While 60% did not participate in the elections in Tehran, the stronghold of the reformists, they claimed they are the legitimate heirs to people’s trust.

While the majority of the people are inherently pro-reform, the reform movement failed to reach them and therefore to receive their support.

While there is a vast reservoir of potential supporters in a country of 75 millions, over half of which is younger than 35, the reformists are still awaiting for the birth of a constituency.

While non-fundamentalists and secular Iranians, who could have been absorbed by the reformists, are finding their own language and establishing their own institutions, the reformists still resort to the same language used by the fundamentalists and emulate their institutions, only a bit fancier.

For months, in meeting after meeting, the best they could come up with was President Khatami’s double-talk, like declaration, “Let us participate in election long-sufferingly, yet cheerfully.” I read this statement a few times back and forth trying to make a sense of it. Still it is unclear to me and many whom they addressed this message to and what it meant. Really, who was supposed to vote? Who wants to sent Zahra and Hasan Eshraghi to the Parliament? What for? What sort of reform they will bring to us? Who are they anyhow? The Imam’s dynasty? Turn back another thirty years?

While the reform movements’ most important achievement was sort of establishing and legitimizing the “opposition” to the ruling hardliners in the regime, what is left of it today is just a “long-suffering voice”. There is no trace of opposition left in it.

This election in fact brought the two segments of the society, culturally, politically, nationally, and even religiously head to head. If this conflict manifested itself in the messages sent by their leaders, “let’s vote to beat the enemy” vs. “let’s vote to show we are long-suffering,” clearly the reformist message did not reflect the voice of its potential supporters. When Khatami, regretfully, issued the above-mentioned statements, the real voice of the majority would call for a real challenge to the supreme leader, saying, “No, the Parliament is not a sports gym where we show our muscles to our enemies, the enemies that you created for us; that it is not place for us to rally to display our unity. We are united but not in your fraudulent front. Parliament is our home for our representative to work on our behalf to secure our interest and well-being.”

Obviously there is a vast cultural division in the country that cannot be denied anymore. While the present government and leadership have found its constituency among the masses who are equally happy with having a parliament as wrestling pit and willing to participate in the match, the reformist leaders simply evade the issue and declare failure cheerfully and invited people to “loose with a smile.”

In fact, the Principlists celebrated not only their own victory, but the reformists’ defeat. A simple look at the voting results will give a clear picture. In Tehran, which is the stronghold of the reformists, only 40% of all eligible voters participated and the top candidate was Adel Hadad, rather than any of the reformists. No matter how discriminatory and unjust the voting process was, there is no justification for this failure. Those 60% in Tehran who did not participate in the election could have cast their votes for all the reformist candidates and they could have taken all the Tehran’s seats in a landslide had the reform movement asked them to. Unfortunately, our reformist friends never reached out to the millions of existing Iranian who could have been their strong supporters; rather they addressed some idealized members of their non-existing party.

The party which came to power with 22 million real votes, crying loud that, “We are with you Khatami, we support you Khatami,” was reduced to next to nothing by the policy of being long-suffering and complaining of “others” and those “absent entities.” I sometimes thought they spent most of their time and energy wishing for some exorcists to cast a spell over those “evil entities.” After twelve years they have not been able to establish any unique institutions or discourse of their own to define reform’s nature. It seems they shied away from average middle class secular Iranians, those big “S” people, those big snaky “S” people who constitute at least 60% of voters and stayed home on Friday, those who really would cherish reform but have no place in the reformists’ mind or heart.

Reformists did not even use what was offered them even to a fraction of its potential. The pledges of 250 young and popular actors and actresses could have brought a few million votes to the reformists. (In the last presidential election, in spite of the serious boycott by almost all, Baran Kossary’s campaign brought one million votes for Mustafa Mo’in!) Instead of a clear message with a clear goal and purpose, the reformists send fuzzy, confusing messages. The wide gap between the reform establishment and pro-reform people could be narrowed if the party would have been willing to define the movement in a way to include those millions, and to employ a discourse suitable for this majority, even at the cost of losing some for whom the movement currently appeals in manipulating religious symbols.

Knowing that there are reformists who know of these missing people, I wonder if we, the middle class secular Iranians, who are the backbone of Iranian society, definitely the backbone of civil society, are ever going to be included as part of the society that the reform movement envisions; if at some point the reform movement quits sticking to the paradox that is created, if at some point they admit there is something essentially wrong in Islamic Republic that needs to be reformed; and if it begins to hear us saying, “No, going back to thirty years ago is no good, there were problems then, there is problem now! We want real reform!”

At this point, we are so far from all this that sometimes I wonder if reform is only a nominal party which must exist just to fill up as an alibi, just in the case!

1 comment:

lotf ali said...

salam Mina,
You have a well-written blog!