Monday, June 15, 2009

Was the Iranian "Election" Rigged or Not?

Let me be the first to admit that I don't know if the recent Iranian "election" was fraudulent, but the faith some pundits have placed on the "evidence" for their conviction that it was gives me pause. If electoral upsets - unpredictable wins - can happen in US elections, they can happen anywhere.

The Iranian elections certainly weren't free and fair, not least because the regime had hand-picked the slate of candidates, but we are unlikely to ever know that straight-up fraud was involved or if voting irregularities were of a higher frequency than those we have routinely taken for granted even in this country. Our failure to contemplate even the possibility that many a dictator has been democratically elected is a dangerous democratic hubris that has shaped and sometimes thwarted our foreign policy.

I am not asserting that the Iranian election was definitely legitimate, only that it is at least remotely possible that it was. At least two independent pollsters agree, and have offered the illuminating factoid from their poll that the only demographic group that found Hossein Mousavi leading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were graduates and the highly-incomed. (That is to say, they are people most likely to resemble western spectators still staring at the final vote tally in disbelief.) And it is worth noting that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in 2005. Indeed the burden of proof should be on those who have argued that this year's result was a surprise.

Yet Christopher Hitchens would have none of it and Steve Clemons has decided that there will be blood. But is the blood that Clemons not implausibly predicts will ensue the result of the subversion of democracy in the Iranian electoral process or its success?

Shutting down the media may be egregiously non-democratic, but it is different than creating ballots out of thin air. The reason why this distincton matters is that we must learn to contemplate why millions of people around the world would want to rally behind fanatical leaders who hold such spectacularly repugnant positions as denying the holocaust. This has happened so many times before that it makes our failure to accept its possibility even more revealing of the depth and scope of our mind-block: consider the cases of Gamal Nasser (Egypt), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Jerry Rawlings (Ghana), Slobodan Milošević (Serbia), and now, possibly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Democracy is messy, and it is not naturally or dialectically inclined towards human rights, western liberal ideals, or the best candidate according to our standards. Neo-conservatives in America positing that the Iraqi people would welcome our troops as liberators back in 2003 have had to learn the hard way the costs of believing what they wanted to believe. In an analagous way, today's pundits have been so quick to assert that the Iranian people in their post-election riots have exposed the charade of their recent "elections," but maybe it is democracy itself that has outwitted the pundits. To understand the unpredictable and poigant path of democracy and democratization in the world, those of us who believe in democracy must urgently and honestly contemplate the number of times we have been hoisted by our own petard.


Unknown said...

Is it possible that this election is completely fair and that it hasn't been rigged? Yes. It's also possible for science to prove that a dandelion can suspend the weight of an elephant. Let's cite three irregularities that make this comparison legitimate. Mousavi apparently lost every single demographic despite polls just days earlier that said he was winning. He lost the vote of his particular sect, which another journalist compared to Obama losing the African American vote. There is now a photograph that is circulating of the TV coverage which shows one of the candidates losing votes for a brief period of time...throw in the impossible task of counting all of those votes in the two hour window of time it took to declare the winner and I think we have to see hold the possibility of a fair and free election in Iran with the same regard we'd hold the daisy and elephant possibility.

Elvin Lim said...

I fear your this post exemplifies the point I was trying to make. How can anyone be so sure about something like - and I suspect you actually agree with me - of all things, the manner in which elections were conducted in Iran?

There are very serious foreign policy moves ahead for Obama. Kudos for him for conceding that he does not yet know exactly what happened on election day. For if he "knew" for sure (in either direction) - I think he would have facilitated a debacle. (Remember the last time an American president rushed to conclusions about WMDs in a nearby state?)

An underestimated virtue of leadership is the abilty to confront uncertainty, for that is what the future is, and that is what leaders are called to harness.

And if Mousavi actually wants American presidential backing, he would be a dandelion inviting an elephant to sit on his political fortunes.