From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Related Categories: International | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Government & Elections
Iran: Clumsy fraud provokes mass demonstrations- Part One
by Morad Shirin
Tuesday Jun 16th, 2009 1:18 PM
Morad Shirin, an Iranian Marxist, explains how and why the regime organised such blatant fraud and why this time it massively backfired. The regime was pushing for greater participation in the voting process to legitimise its own position. Instead they have unleashed the forces of the Iranian revolution.
Iran: Clumsy fraud provokes mass demonstrations- Part One
By Morad Shirin
Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Morad Shirin, an Iranian Marxist, explains how and why the regime organised such blatant fraud and why this time it massively backfired. The regime was pushing for greater participation in the voting process to legitimise its own position. Instead they have unleashed the forces of the Iranian revolution.

Photo by .faramarz.T

he clumsy and blatant fraud by the highest authorities of the Iranian regime has opened up its elite’s internal divisions, sparked spontaneous mass demonstrations and the biggest rally since the 1978-79 revolution. The Iranian regime wanted this ‘presidential election’ to make the headlines all over the world for its “widespread participation of the people”. This would have boosted its weakening social base and strengthened its hand prior to negotiations with US imperialism. Instead the ‘election’ has exposed the cracks in a doomed system that is ripe for an overthrow.

“Mousavi, Mousavi, if you stay silent you’re a traitor!”

By stirring up passions he can barely contain, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who had not been seen since polling day, took part in the demonstration stretching from Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Square to Azadi (Freedom) Square on Monday June 15. This was the biggest protest in Iran for 30 years! Hundreds of thousands took part in the nine kilometres long demonstration. The crowd chanted pro-Mousavi slogans like “Mousavi, Mousavi, get my vote back”.

The massive scale of this demonstration in Tehran (and smaller spontaneous ones in many cities) has made it harder for Mousavi and the ‘reformists’ - i.e., the section of the regime that the youth still have illusions about - to control the protest movement. There have already been people chanting “Mousavi, Mousavi, if you stay silent you’re a traitor!” - a sign that many are ready to go beyond his timid steps. Mousavi’s appearance at the demonstration together with Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, Mohammad-Reza Khatami (who had been released from detention) and other prominent ‘reformists’, is a further step in trying to pull the masses back. They have urged people to be peaceful, calm and to let the ‘legal’ process take its course.

Yet, while the ‘reformists’ were pacifying the crowd, on the north side of Azadi Square, a section of the regime was busy reminding everyone what its hired thugs are capable of doing. Shots were fired into the crowd from a basij (mobilisation force) base. Officially it has been reported that seven people were killed and many were injured at the demonstration.

Photo by .faramarz.

These deaths could have a spiralling effect as each death, according to tradition, should be commemorated on the third, seventh and 40th day of passing. This was an important tactic employed 30 years ago against the monarchy each time the Shah’s forces killed someone. It brought more and more people on to the streets.

There have also been protests at Tehran University, and universities in Esfahan, Shiraz, Babol and Hamadan. The student dormitory of Tehran University, in scenes reminiscent of July 1999, was attacked and smashed up by the security forces. The plain-clothed officers at the Tehran University dormitory are said to have used live rounds! When the dozens of injured students were taken to a local hospital it set off a protest by the medical staff. Students at other universities have also been attacked and four of them are said to have been killed.

Yet the pressure from the masses has been unstoppable: the regime’s elite has had to eat its words and order a recount of the votes! It remains to be seen if this is going to be an actual recount and whether it is complete or not. (After vote rigging in 2005, the Guardian Council agreed to recount 100 ballot boxes but in the end said that the votes declared originally were valid – without counting any of them!) To defuse the situation the regime will try to make the final result look convincing.

The promise about a recount is an important victory for the masses. But even a complete re-run will merely fix one level of fraud in a process that is rigged, unfair and undemocratic at several levels. The demonstrators, particularly the youth, should treat it as just a first lesson in the power that the masses have in by-passing Mousavi, the ‘reformists’ and the whole regime.

“Widespread participation”

In early May, before the 10th ‘presidential election’ campaign had begun, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, said that the most important thing in the ‘election’ will be the “widespread participation of the people” which would “further disappoint the enemies of the Islamic Republic”. He urged everyone “to make the election a success” and that he was “sure that the people, in view of their Islamic duty, will have a massive turnout in the election as usual”. He even said that, “the atmosphere should be one of enthusiasm, so that people know they plan to do a great task and bring a government to power which takes proper steps towards realising the lofty ideals.”

The regime – all of its factions - wanted to use a high turnout to counter the correct assertion of its critics among sections of the American (and some of the European) bourgeoisie about the lack of democracy in Iran. Khamenei was voicing the fear that the regime’s elite has had about a low turnout ever since the 2003 local ‘elections’ when nationally just 49% of the electorate voted - with the Tehran vote at just 12%! This would not just have reflected badly on a particular faction but would have undermined the whole regime in the lead up to a historic negotiation and accommodation process with US imperialism.

The regime therefore took unprecedented steps that turned this ‘election’ into something akin to a real election in America or Europe: televised debates between the candidates (including the incumbent ‘president’); loosening up the normally very tight policing; and using all the tightly-controlled media to promote this as a decisive battle for the future direction of the country.

The candidates’ campaign teams, particularly Mousavi’s, also used Facebook, SMS texts, emails, blogs and websites to create a real momentum as if a crucial choice and change were about to happen. They, especially Mousavi, involved their wives in the campaign; chose colours to represent their campaigns; and organised street debates and canvassing by their supporters. Celebrities, particularly pop and film stars, backed their favourite candidates (mostly endorsing Karroubi).

So the people, particularly the youth who were too young to remember Khatami’s broken promises, were caught up in the carnival atmosphere of the ‘election’. Every night cheering and chanting people would stay out until 4am. The general mood was such that even opposing camps were mostly content to chant at each other and there was little violence.

The result of this re-engagement with the voters, according to the official figures, was that the turnout was over 40 million (over 85%) of eligible voters, which is higher than the 80% figure in 1997, when Khatami beat Nategh-Nouri!

Selection not an ‘election’

Each ‘election’ in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), however, is in fact a selection process. In particular, through the ‘presidential election’ the theocratic-military regime selects the person who will be pursuing the domestic and foreign policy of the Leader for the next four years.

Long before the campaign began Khamenei and the system he heads had chosen their man. First, out of the over 450 hopefuls who had registered to be candidates, the Guardian Council disqualified all but four people. All 42 women were ruled out! This is the usual first step and in 2005 out of the over 1000 who registered about six candidates made it on to the ballot papers.

So how is it that the Guardian Council can do this? The Guardian Council, a 12-man body made up of six high ranking Islamic clerics and six Islamic lawyers, is selected by the Leader (currently Khamenei). It stands above the ‘parliament’ and can dismiss laws passed by it on the basis that they are un-Islamic or against the Constitution of the IRI. Basically it is elected by the chief mollah to make sure that the reactionary and medieval-looking constitution, the ‘legal’ and ideological basis for the velayat-e faghih system, is upheld and put into practice. The velayat-e faghih is the unique form of bourgeois dictatorship that lies behind the republican window-dressing of the IRI.

Second, the remaining four candidates - no matter how ‘moderate’ or ‘reformist’ they may look against Ahmadinejad - are staunch supporters of the velayat-e faghih system. They are loyalists who have been serving the regime for many years: Mousavi is a former ‘prime minister’ (when Khamenei was ‘president’); Karroubi is a former ‘speaker of parliament’ and Rezaee is a former commander of the pasdaran (‘revolutionary’ guards). As such, they have all for many years had a hand in the suppression of the independent workers’ movement, protests by women, students, national minorities and so on.

Third, Khamenei, despite his official protestations about neutrality, had made his choice a long time ago. His frequent hints made it clear that he wanted Ahmadinejad to stay on. Although this time, by advising people what type of candidate they should vote for, he went a little further than his usual nods and winks, but he stopped short of being blatant.

Fourth, every ‘election’ they mobilise their pasdaran, basij, hezbollahi, plain-clothed and other official thugs to intimidate people, to help in stuffing the ballot boxes, use dead people’s ID papers, and strange calculations of the votes cast.

These four measures are ‘normal’ during ‘elections’ held in the IRI.

Fraud? Yes, but why so clumsy and blatant?

It is important to bear in mind that all manner of fraud, cheating and rigging are an integral part of this bourgeois dictatorship. This regime has a three-decade history of fixing and manipulating results - starting from the way they posed the question in the referendum that approved an ‘Islamic republic’ in March 1979 to over 30 ‘presidential’, ‘parliamentary’ and local ‘elections’. According to a former ‘reformist’ MP, the people’s vote counts for just 15% of the calculations in deciding who the winner in an ‘election’ is!

This time, however, they tried to announce the result and have it endorsed by the Leader before anyone could question the numbers. Within hours of the polls closing the Interior Minster said that over 24.5 million (62.6%) of the people had voted for Ahmadinejad, the despised incumbent. Just 13.2 million (33.75%) are supposed to have voted for Mousavi. Karroubi, who four years ago had 5 million votes in the first round (against Ahmadinejad’s 5.7 million), is this time supposed to have had less than 340,000 (despite all the celebrity support)!

This result is 7 million better than Ahmadinejad had last time! The more strange aspect is that instead of the usual province-by-province declaration, which makes it easier to check the validity of the count, this time votes were declared in blocks of around five million at a time.

This lack of detail made it impossible for the other candidates to lodge their complaints. After repeated requests, and the growing pressure of the rising mass movement, the details were finally released just before the deadline (on the evening of Monday June 15). These are bizarre figures: the other three candidates do not seem to have done well even in their own home towns, or among their own ethnic groups. The vote for the ‘reformists’ - despite this high turnout (against the 66.66% of four years ago) - has collapsed and the Kurds have suddenly become enthusiastic supporters of Ahmadinejad!

This is a remarkable result in that the misguided economic policies of the past four years have brought hardship to many sections that have been part of the social base of this regime. Economic policies (such as maintaining an interest rate that is about half the inflation rate and the attempt to introduce value added tax) and the confrontational foreign policy (which has led to further sanctions and isolation) have turned the bazaar, one of the pillars of the Islamic movement and the regime, against Ahmadinejad! The urban hezbollahi poor, who were crucial in many phases of the regime’s consolidation and smashing all social movements, have been hit by the same high unemployment, the runaway inflation, privatisation, cuts in subsidies, lack of decent housing and so on, that the workers face. And here lies the key to why this time the fraud was so clumsy and blatant.

16 June 2009