2009 versus 1979

This week I was expecting to be writing about the second round of the Iranian Presidential election that should have taken place this friday between President Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Moussavi, his reformist opponent. As Ahmadinejad received more than the 50% of the vote, he got 63% to Moussavi’s 34%, the second round became redundant. Turnout this time was a record 85%. Comparing this election to that of 2005 explains a lot about what has just occurred. In 2005 Ahmadinejad received a paltry 19%, only some 5.7 million votes, in the first round on a turnout of just 63% although he went on to trounce Rafsanjani in the second round. Many Iranians used to be reticent to vote fearing lending legitimacy to the Orwellian regime that controls many aspects of their own lives while riding roughshod over the human rights of many of their fellow citizens. However, on 12th June the Iranians came out en masse for change but expediently saw their votes appropriated by the incumbent Ahmadinejad who managed to tally an astonishing 24.5 million votes this time round. A private poll conducted for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, seen by the Sunday Times, suggested Moussavi would actually win 58% of the vote. The seemingly manipulated final 29% disparity between the two main protagonists left no doubt as to Khamenei’s preferred president, despite his own private poll, but has not dissipated calls for a recount. As Khamenei calls the main shots the election seems like a fait accomplit and the Iranian people might now be subject to four more years of oppression against their will. That’s four more years of women and others treated as second-class citizens. Indeed, Iran is split between the rural poor, who would have voted for Ahmadinejad’s continuation of state handouts, and urbanite business people and intellectuals, who want reform and an end to worldwide isolation. But Ahmadinejad mysteriously “won” all the major cities except Tehran. And considering that 70% o f Iranians are under thirty the underlying tensions might now be too difficult to contain. At the time of writing the first set of live bullets have just been fired into crowds of Moussavi supporters with tragic consequences. The first confirmed death has come almost three days after the rigged polls closed. For almost three days Moussavi supporters were allowed the freedom to vent their rage and the usual protests against America were incredibly replaced with protests against Khamenei. In the weeks before the election a carnival atmosphere was in vogue in parts of Iran but it seems the mullahs have finally had enough and the iron fist of the Islamic Revolution will descend once more. It would be trite to see in one death the start of a Green, Moussavi’s political colours, Revolution some 30 years after the Islamic one but the mullahs must be cognisant that the people that helped them to overthrow the Shah could try to overthrow them. In 1978 the wavering Shah made the mistake of allowing the Iranian people the freedom to protest hoping that peaceful demonstrations would burn themselves out. He also lifted media restrictions. In contrast the mullahs are taking no chances and have blocked Facebook, text messaging and closed down reform-minded newspapers. In 1978 it was the tragic death of 500 people in the Cinema Rex fire in Abadan combined with riot deaths, whether caused by the Shah’s policies or not, that gave the charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini the ability to rally the people to his revolutionary banner. Moussavi is no Khomeini but sentiment in Iran seems the same as it was thirty years ago: Iranians want their Iran back.

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