Fri, 12 Jun 2009 15:08:37 +0000 – By Tala Dowlatshahi
Talk Radio News Service
While many pundits and politicians are hoping that the Iranian election will bring about that elusive and alluring phenomenon, change, thus implicitly or explicitly comparing it to the recent U.S. presidential election, it's worth pausing for a moment to remember the vast differences between the ways the two countries select their leaders. The numbers are rather different with over 300 million Americans compared to nearly 70 million Iranians. This is only Iran's tenth presidential race, and in this one, as in all, the media coverage has been lopsided in favor of one candidate, and many, including women, were disqualified altogether. Both leading candidates are the same race. Both are men. Both were supporters of the Islamic Revolution.
Yet, this buzz inside Iran about a new president, a new era, has managed to lure in those most skeptical of Iranian politics, Iranian-Americans. Like me, many of these hyphenated Americans are in this game more than ever before. We all want to see America and Iran on friendly terms. And some believe the stakes are quite high.
Trita Parsi, an outspoken Iranian-American and Director of the National Iranian American Council said this week:
"Failure to give diplomacy the attention and time it (Iran) needs could have dire consequences for key U.S. interests: the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan, the global nonproliferation regime, and the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors. That is why the administration's diplomatic approach towards Iran must be designed to ensure success, not just to position us for other steps after an eventual break-down."
So far, millions of Iranians have voted in the elections being held today. Over 40 million are registered. Nearly half are youth voters under 30 years of age. The charged atmosphere will last until polls close at 8 p.m. Iran time (10:30am EDT). Many from the Iranian-American community predict a run-off between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. Some are claiming that none of the candidates will win a 50% majority of the votes cast today. The other two, Karroubi and Rezaei, will probably be out--leaving Mousavi and the incumbent Ahmadinejad to face off next week.
Many within the Iranian expatriate community in America are rooting for Ahmadinejad to lose. They see him as a stubborn populist demagogue. Moreover, they perceive him to be vulgar and low-brow. These hyphenated Americans, from their secular roots and their days supporting the Shah, have a keen eye for his poor fashion--open collar, no tie, occasionally a Member's Only-style jacket. Ahmadenijad even boasts driving a simple car, and lives among his people in a simple house.
It's possible to see the disdain for Ahmadinejad among the secular elite within America and Iran as merely a kind of snobbery. But many perceive his proletarian demeanor as an affectation, a way of pretending to be "of the people." Indeed, Ahmadinejad's efforts to reach out to the poor don't go much beyond aesthetics. The economy is floundering partially as a result of his policies, and this has hurt people within all strata of Iranian society. Unemployment is rampant (12.5 percent --3 percentage points over the current U.S. rate). The Iranian economy has been plagued by out of control inflation and widespread domestic mismanagement of funds. The media are muzzled--over a dozen journalists and bloggers are behind bars. Women are harassed daily for speaking out about their rights. Drug usage among the youth has steadily increased in Tehran and surrounding cities. As opium comes across the borders, Iranian politicians turn a blind eye to the thousands of HIV infected heroine addicts. Hey, if they're doped up they won't protest the government right?
Mousavi and his wife are getting the youth vote primarily for these reasons. For starters, we hear a woman's voice from the campaign trail-Zahra Rahnavard . No, she's not a candidate--she's a wife and mom. But she is also a professor and a role-model for women throughout Iran. And her message to the youth about a free press, a more open society, and rights to women--is ringing loud and strong alongside her popular husband, candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
Unlike the incumbent who has a draconian policy towards the press and online communities, the progressive Mousavi has reached out to young voters via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook--garnering some 40,000 supporters worldwide. Mousavi and his wife come from a privileged segment of the population, that's for sure. They are appealing to the middle-class vote, the urban vote. They have a different aesthetic and perception of the way Iran should deal with America, Israel and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad manipulates his image in order to seem of the people. But today perhaps a majority of Iranians will see this hoax for what it is.
Of course, whoever wins, whether it be in a run-off next week or a majority win today, it won't change the real power structure in Iran. The twelve pious men who control the Guardian Council have the power to veto any legislation they deem to contradict Islamic principles. The Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei said this morning: "I recommend them (the people) to just vote based on their own views and decisions,".
Easy words for a man who knows he will take the reigns no matter what the outcome.