Repercussions of the Iranian Elections

Summary Kaveh Ehsani’s, Arang Keshavarzian’s and Norma Claire Moruzzi’s Article on Iranian Elections:

Despite certain peculiarities, Ahmadinejad’s reelection should not be considered overwhelming surprising. Every previous Iranian incumbent has been reelected and the circumstances of the election stood as a huge advantage for Ahmadinejad. He had control of the state, including media outlets, and had instigated a populist mentality when distributing the funds generated from oil revenue since his first election. All the major players in Iranian politics supported Ahmadinejad including, the Iranian military, the Guardian Council and the implicit support of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Any analysts believing these election  mark a changing of the guard should remember the allegations of fraud surrounding Ahmadinejad’s first election. Both Karroubi and Rafsanjani claimed they were cheated in the election process. Also, an investigation into $330 million missing from Tehran’s budget believed to have funded Ahmadinejad’s campaign was eventually suspended by the new speaker of Parliament, an Ahmadinejad ally. Although Mousavi was particularly attractive candidate, having a close relationship to the late Khomeini, the Islamic Revolution, and a track record of success during turbulent 1980’s, these characteristics were not enough to overcome the advantages Ahmadinejad enjoyed as sitting president.

Mousavi campaigned with the slogan “lying is forbidden”, an appropriate counter to the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad, who misrepresented every statistic possible for his advantage. For his argument that GDP has grown by 6%, rather than 5% under his predecessor, Ahmadinejad failed to mention the factor of $300 billion in added revenue from high oil prices during this time. Claims that unemployment was down were tainted by the fact the Interior Ministry changed the official definition of unemployed. The rift between ruling factions in Iran has become public and vocalized in way untested by the current system of government.

More importantly, Iranians believed the political differences in the candidates would have an actual impact in their lives. Mousavi focused his campaign on establishing rule of law. He described violence used to “Islamize” a society as a tool of domination by the elite and promised dismiss the moral police’s authority over “Islamic dress”. He promised to use Iran’s oil reserved to create new industries rather than rely on its value as an export economy. Furthermore, Mousavi criticized Ahmadinejad’s handouts as a short-term solution which provides no viable means for the poor to improve their lifestyle.

In the week leading up to the election, Mousavi proved particularly effective at organizing and coordinating peaceful demonstrations of thousands. These rallies and the perceived popularity of Mousavi undoubtedly fueled the fraud allegations. Also emerging from these elections is a new sense of self-determination from Iranians. In some of the most powerful demonstrations since 1979, the government has proven is can no longer limit the scope of political debates and demonstrations. Furthermore, a relatively independent free press has emerged and with the help of the Internet, the voice of the people can no longer be completely oppressed.

By not seriously addressing documented speculated election fraud, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei contributed to the destabilizing aspects of the elections by their reactions. Resembling an old regime falling out of favor, Ahmadinejad referred to the opposition as “dirt” and dismissed their opinion as those disappointed by a soccer match. Similarly, Khamenei has done little to reconcile with the opposition except press for violent tactics if they continue to protest. While this strategy maybe successful in clamping down on protests in the short run, the resentment of the opposition will continue to grow and could eventually destabilize the Iranian political system.

Repressing the voice of the people is a high risk policy that cannot sustain itself indefinitely. The opposition will be left with little choice but to abandon street marches and search for alternative means to protest the election outcome. Two options currently exist: either Mousavi can begin consolidating political power and expand his outreach to a greater number of constituents, or the opposition can begin engaging in strikes and other forms of social disobedience. While the later may prove to be politically unpopular and produce no immediate results, the later will surely be a costly venture bringing the country to the brink of a revolution.

Imran Malik
Program Assistant
Minaret of Freedom Institute


Minaret of Freedom Institute Program Assistant


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