Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Persian Letters

Iran's Supreme Leader Unintentionally Triggers Online Interest In 'Free Elections'

An Iranian casts his ballot in Tehran for elections in 2012 in front of a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
An Iranian casts his ballot in Tehran for elections in 2012 in front of a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shot himself in the foot last week when he called for an end to public demands for free elections.

"They shouldn't constantly say elections must be free. It's obvious that elections should be free," Khamenei said on January 8. "Since the beginning of the revolution until now we've had [more than] 30 elections -- which one has not been free?"

The Iranian leader, who has the last word on all matters in the Islamic republic, said raising such issues plays into the hands of Iran's "enemies" and discourages people from participating in the upcoming June 14 presidential vote.

Khamenei appears to have been reacting to comments made in recent weeks by figures such as former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, who said the presidential election should be free, fair, and competitive.

His warning was aimed at silencing those calls and putting an end to demands for free elections.

Yet ironically, Khamenei's call appeared to lead to increased online interest in discussions about free elections, conditions for free and fair voting, and whether free elections can be held in the Islamic republic.

A Google graph shows a spike in the number of searches for the term "free elections" in Persian on January 8 and subsequent days when other officials followed Khamenei's lead and warned against casting doubt on the fairness of elections in Iran.

A journalist in Iran who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity said sarcastically that the opposition should thank Khamenei for bringing such attention to the need for free elections.

The increased interest has been felt off-line, as well. Iranian researcher Nima Rashedan said the calls for free elections have led to concern among hard-liners who believe various opposition factions are uniting around a common slogan.

"Some of the websites that are close to security circles have said that never before in the past 30 years have different Iranian opposition groups used a single term -- that is 'free elections' -- and that, according to them, this is a cause of serious concern," she said.

Following Khamenei's warning, prominent political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was deputy interior minister under Khatami, said the warnings about free elections shouldn't lead to fear and the demands for a free and fair vote should be fully supported.

In a letter from Evin prison that was published on opposition websites, Tajzadeh said that if he were free, he would launch a huge campaign in support of free elections.

Tajzadeh was jailed following the disputed 2009 presidential vote that the opposition said was massively rigged.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
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Comment Sorting
by: Human from: World
January 17, 2013 13:46
RFERL reports on Iran are very shallow. Yes, it is very hard to find insightful news on Iran in the Western media, but at least some effort must be made to make the out of context reporting on Iran a bit more sophisticated.

The primary disadvantage is that most Western media relies on Iranian expats that have little in common with average Iranians. In Iraq the US committed the same mistake by relying on types like Ahmed Chalabi.

Iranians clearly back Islamic minded candidates so get over it. Ahmedinejad won, get over it. As a prominent Iran scholar and journalist wrote " a pre-election poll, sponsored by the New America Foundation, found a 2-to-1 breakdown for Ahmadinejad among Azeris. Part of the reason appeared to be that Ahmadinejad had poured government resources into that area. So, the assumption of Azeris automatically lining up behind Mousavi proved false.

Another frequent charge from the Western press was that Ahmadinejad’s claim of victory came too fast, but that ignored the fact that Mousavi was out with a declaration of victory before any votes were counted. The first partial results, showing Ahmadinejad in the lead, came out hours later.

The reason why Ahmadinejad might have really won the election – by something like the 2-to-1 margin in the official tallies – was that his support was concentrated among the urban and rural poor who benefited from government food giveaways and jobs programs and who tend to listen more to conservative clerics in the mosques.

Generally speaking, Mousavi had the backing of the urban middle class and the well-educated, especially in the more cosmopolitan capital of Tehran where universities became a center for protests against Ahmadinejad."

In Response

by: Jamal et al. from: Prague
January 17, 2013 23:17
"RFERL reports on Iran are very shallow" says it all. RFERL regurgitates what others have reported hours or even days ago. It focuses on news yet it has no correspondence in Iran. Its output is shallow because it has kicked out most of its experts on Iran and other countries due to its president's disasterous decisions which led to him being kicked out as well. The reports are shallow because the person who is supposed to give RFERL editorial direction has never written an article in her life ! And many other reasons that are beyond the scope of this comment.

by: Anonymous
January 17, 2013 17:35
Awesome! I think Khamenei should lead the Iranian opposition.

by: Anonymous from: US
January 18, 2013 06:38
With all due respect, I think RFE's coverage of Iran is pretty solid, and very insightful. I'm a fan of Persian Letters.
In Response

by: Jamal et al from: Prague
January 18, 2013 11:22
"I am a fan Persain Letters" - fine. A lot is happening in Iran beyond the scope of Persian Letters. We are talking about (the non-existent) overall coverage of Iran, a country which is very important to RFERL. We are talking about the sadomasochistic-approach of the fomer president of RFERL for not seeing this and kicking out specialists and experts needlessly. We are talking about RFERL's former president who cut off his nose to spite his face. Through its Radio Farda, RFERL is a unique position to provide original and unique reports and analyses in English on Iran but it is not doing it. And instead regurgitating other agencies' reports on Iran.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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