On Saturday, I wrote a post which talked about the myths the left are perpetuating about the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Iranian presidency, which are that 1) reform-minded Iranians were “ok” with having Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president as long as he helped protect them from the “warmongering” Bush and 2) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected over Iranian fears of the United States after Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech and other “harsh” rhetoric towards Iran. In essence, Bush has been blamed for Ahmadinejad’s “rise to power,” an assertion that is unsupported by the facts. This post continues where the last one left off.
There are literally hundreds of articles on Google that I spent over an hour browsing earlier. I have so many links on my desktop about the 2005 elections there that it will take me forever to organize them. But here’s one from the NYT that talks about the allegations after the first round of the elections. Let’s see if you can spot the similarities between then and now:
TEHRAN, June 18 – The race for the presidency in Iran was thrown into turmoil on Saturday when the third-place finisher accused conservative hard-liners of rigging the election and cutting him out of the runoff vote next week, which will be between a former president and the conservative mayor of Tehran.
The accusation of voting irregularities came from Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and former speaker of Parliament known as a conciliator, who said he would continue to press his case publicly unless the country’s supreme religious leader ordered an independent investigation.
The Interior Ministry issued final figures Saturday night, saying the former two-term president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, would face off against the hard-line mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a runoff it said would probably be held next Friday. It was unclear what, if any, effect the accusations of fraud would have on the planned vote.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s strong showing came as a shock to the political establishment here. He had hovered at the back of the field of candidates in pre-election opinion surveys and his political base was said to be limited to the capital city. An element of the bizarre in the events on Saturday came as Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that he would be in the runoff hours before the ministry issued its own results.
The government did not immediately respond to the charges of vote tampering, but the cloud had been hanging over the race since the early morning hours when the Interior Ministry found its results being publicly contradicted on state television by the Guardian Council, the panel controlled by hard-line clerics that has the ultimate say over all government actions and often clashes with the reform-controlled elected government. The council has, for example, the power to unilaterally reject the outcome of the election.
Initially, the Interior Ministry had Mr. Rafsanjani first, Mr. Karroubi, the former speaker of the Parliament, in second, and Mr. Ahmadinejad third. Half an hour later the Guardian Council, which is not supposed to be involved in counting ballots, said Mr. Ahmadinejad was in first place.
To break it down: Rafsanjani and Karroubi were considered the “moderate/centrist/reform” candidates that year and both were pledging to open up dialogue with the west – in particular the US. The US WAS a factor in the election that year, one of many – but not in the way that the left has painted the picture. Reform-minded Iranians were desirous of more interaction with the US, not less. There was around 60% turnout for the first round of elections there and for all intents and purposes it looked like the reform/moderate candidates – the intial top two vote-getters – were going to go head to head in the final round. But MA was a “surprise” (cough) second place “winner” in the first round.
In between the first round and the runoff (which took place roughly a week later) there were 12 reported bombings in Iran as a result of the political unrest and feelings of a stolen election. The runoff saw a percentage turnout of under 50%, the lowest ever since the 1979 revolution (this was also the first presidential election ever where there was a runoff, if I recall correctly). Those who did vote for MA voted for him primarily on the issue of the economy (he ran as a populist and he was a favorite among the poor and uneducated). The MA camp also accused the reformists of being “ineffectual” (which even some moderates agreed with, considering the previous reform president got little done in the way of reform). Some reformists urged a “boycott” of the runoff elections in protest while others urged disgruntled moderate voters to go the polls anyway. Rafsanjani was not super-inspirational to reformists in Iran in a way that Mousavi has been, either – the fact that some reformists had accused him of murdering dissidents during his presidency might have had something to do with that. The more moderate candidates who lost (including Rafasanjani) tried to make waves with allegations of voter fraud in both the first round and the runoff but their cries to the media were mostly supressed by the regime and not much came of it. The following year, MA’s party lost soundly in the 2006 parliamentary elections as there were increased calls by moderates for MA to answer questions about his policies, priorities, and his disdain for the west. These facts are all available by doing a Google search of the 2005 Iran elections (make sure to minus out the word/number “2009” to avoid getting all the news about this year’s election).
So when the facts are all laid out on the table, the allegation that the 2005 election was a “referendum on Bush” falls flat on its a** when it comes under scrutiny. As I’ve said before, I know it’s popular to blame Bush for all the world’s ills but blaming Bush for MA’s election shows either unintentional ignorance or willfull ignorance of those who do so – and I’m not sure which one is worse. MA is where he is today because of a combination of a few factors in the 2005 Iranian presidential election: 1) it was rigged, esp. in the first round (how can some guy who no one outside of Tehran knew come in 2nd place in the first round?), 2) MA won votes in the runoff as a populist who promised better economic times to the poor and uneducated, and painted his opposition as ineffectual and not really “reform-minded,” and 3) apathy for the “reform” candidate – plus, there was infighting in reform circles as to whether or not to vote in the runoff anyway.
Another question comes to mind in all this: Just how “reform-minded” are the so-called “moderates” in Iran, anyway? As I’ve written before, Mousavi is hardly what I’d call “change” in anything other than name only. I don’t say that to suggest that people have died in the streets of Iran for nothing; I truly believe there is a hunger there for real western-style freedoms, and that there are hundreds of thousands – if not millions – willing to put it all on the line for a chance at having those freedoms, but Mousavi’s history leads me to believe he likely had/has no intent to deliver on any of those promises in any meaningful way. And even if he did, the mullahs and Supreme Leader would only let him go so far. Mousavi made a lot of promises that his history in the Iranian government does not back up. Even Obama himself acknowledged last week that there was very little difference between Mousavai and Ahmadinejad, something I welcomed hearing because prior to that I figured the admin was completely clueless on the whole issue. Mousavai was/is a “symbol” for change, but I’m afraid he’s not much more than that.