14 June 2009

Persian snooker

Can anyone figure out what happened in the Iranian presidential election between conservative favorite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and would-be reformist Mir-Hossain Mousavi.
In these presidential elections, Iranians have a 'candidate of change' (yes, literally the same slogan) in the person of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Now, this is very interesting, since Mir-Hossein Mousavi, currently a member of the 'reformist' camp, was the prime minister (when the post existed) from 1981 to 1989. Back then he was a member of the 'left wing' due to his advocacy for a state-run economy. Nowadays, he has changed indeed and supports all manner of privatization (as do all 'reformers').

Mousavi's premiership coincided with the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), during which his economic management carried the country through very rough times. Among other innovations, he introduced the coupon system that made sure everybody received the minimum ration of needed nutrients during those hard times.
Mossavi has been widely touted in the Western media, which views Iranian politics--like American politics--solely through the lens of liberalizing the socially-repressive theocracy, ignoring the fact that poor people tend to be concerned initially with not starving, with clothing options coming second. Most were led to believe that Mossavi would be ride in easily in another color-coded revolution (this one green). So they were stunned when voting results claimed to show Ahmadinejad winning in a landslide.

Immediately, many began accusing Ahmadinejad of colluding with the theocratic clerics to either steal the election or launch a pre-emptive coup (covered well here). While this seems possible, if not likely, one shouldn't discount the third possibility; that the Big A actually won the election. The Western press appears to have grossly overestimated Mousavi's support because it rarely leaves the upper-crust bubble in Tehran.
Perhaps from the start Mousavi was destined to fail as he hoped to combine the articulate energies of the liberal upper class with the business interests of the bazaar merchants. The Facebook campaigns and text-messaging were perfectly irrelevant for the rural and working classes who struggle to make a day's ends meet, much less have the time to review the week's blogs in an internet cafe. Although Mousavi tried to appeal to such classes by addressing the problems of inflation and poverty, they voted otherwise.
As if on cue, here's a New Yorker correspondent claiming to know the electon was stolen because everyone she knows with Blackberries in the Grand Hyatt ballroom voted for Mousavi.

Of course, Iran's quasi-democracy should be viewed with some skepticism, given that potential candidates have to be pre-approved by the clerical administration before they are allowed to participate. Americans should find this system very familiar, although we mostly prefer our gatekeepers to be business leaders rather than clerics.

It's all very difficult to unravel, which doesn't mean that the American media won't find a way to strip all the nuance away when it wakes up tomorrow morning. I expect a simplistic outporing of finger-wagging, condemnation, and condescention toward anyone who wonders about the "done stole it!" narrative. Needless to say it'll be boom times for the "bomb bomb Iran" chorus line, who'll eat this shit like candy. Some were even forthrightly rooting for The Big A to win, because a moderate could lull us into forgetting his Brown Muslimness.

Really, I'm skeptical here because of my unwritten rule of rigging elections: If you're going to steal it with any concern for subtlety, you have to produce a result that people could believe. Ahmadinejad giving himself 67 percent of an election he was expected to lose doesn't make sense unless a)he's ragingly obtuse (possible) or b)that's roughly what he got.