A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 12, 2009

Election Day in Iran

One of Theodore White's Making of the President books — I think the first one, on 1960 and the JFK election — starts out by noting that in an American election, the actual voting is somewhat invisible: people are casting their votes but no one knows what the results will be; once the polls close, of course, the decision is already made, but it may be hours (or as in 2000, weeks) before the world knows what the decision was.

Iranians are voting today, and we won't know the results for a while. No one has to explain to me just how undemocratic the Iranian system is: the Council of Guardians can throw out any and all candidates of whom it disapproves; no one who disapproves of the fundamental system of velayat-e faqih can run, and that system is itself undemodcratic because it raises a cleric above the vox populi; and the President, once chosen, has limited powers.

Even with all that, there's a genuine suspense about this election, and an enthusiasm in the streets, by all accounts. Iranians do not have the genuine power of self-determination of most Western democracies, but they do have a choice: a greater real choice than almost any other country in the region. It wasn't that long ago that policymakers simply worked on the assumption that Ahmadinejad was guaranteed his position for another term; now that's clearly in doubt. Some of the enthusiasm for Mousavi may be wishful thinking, but some of it is coming from the top (Rafsanjani et al.). Something important may be about to happen, but if it doesn't, it has at least been something of a wild ride over the past few days in Iran. It sounds as if the Iranian street is feeling the pull and tasting the taste of a free-for-all campaign. Whoever wins, that is good for the country and augurs well for next time.

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