Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Was Iran's Election 'Stolen'?

For our ms media operatives, Iran's 'stolen' 2009 election is enshrined in the halls of received wisdom along with Ahmadinejad's alleged threat to 'wipe Israel off the map'*:

"The most extraordinary thing about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rock-star welcome in Beirut this week is that it would not happen in his own capital, Tehran. Millions in Iran believe Ahmadinejad stole last year's presidential election - the evidence is strong. While he still has support in remote and rural parts, in larger cities such as Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan he is largely despised." (Ahmadinejad rock star welcome proves who's paying the piper, John Lyons, The Australian, 16/10/10)

The evidence is strong? Really? Please consider:

"There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite... The recently concluded, June 12, 2009 elections in Iran are a classic case: The incumbent nationalist-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received 63.3% of the vote... The opposition led by Hossein Mousavi did not accept their defeat and organized a series of mass demonstrations that turned violent, resulting in the burning and destruction of automobiles, banks, public buildings and armed confrontations with the police and other authorities. Almost the entire spectrum of Western opinion makers, including all the major liberal, radical, libertarian and conservative web-sites, echoed the opposition's claim of rampant electoral fraud...

"What is astonishing about the West's universal condemnation of the electoral outcome as fraudulent is that not a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of vote tampering was raised... As long as the Western media believed their own propaganda of an imminent victory for their candidate, the electoral process was described as highly competitive, with heated public debates and unprecedented levels of public activity, and unhindered by public proselytizing. The belief in a free and open election was so strong that the Western leaders and mass media believed that their favored candidate would win.

"The Western media relied on its reporters covering the mass demonstrations of opposition supporters, ignoring and downplaying the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad. Worse still, the Western media ignored the class composition of the competing demonstrations - the fact that the incumbent candidate was drawing his support from the far more numerous poor working class, peasant, artisan and public employee sectors while the bulk of the opposition demonstrators was drawn from the upper and middle class students, business and professional class.

"Moreover, most Western opinion leaders and reporters based in Tehran extrapolated their projections from their observations in the capital - few venture into the provinces, small and medium sized cities and villages where Ahmadinejad has his mass base of support. Moreover, the opposition's supporters were an activist minority of students easily mobilised for street activities, while Ahmadinejad's support drew on the majority of working youth and household women workers who would express their views at the ballot box and had little time or inclination to engage in street politics.

"A number of newspaper pundits... claim as evidence of electoral fraud the fact that Ahmadinejad won 63% of the vote in an Azeri-speaking province against his opponent, Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri. The simplistic assumption is that ethnic identity or belonging to a linguistic group is the only possible explanation of voting behavior rather than other social or class interests. A closer look at the voting pattern in the East-Azerbaijan region of Iran reveals that Mousavi won only in the city of Shabestar among the upper and the middle classes (and only by a small margin), whereas he was soundly defeated in the larger rural areas, where the re-distributive policies of the Ahmadinejad government had helped the ethnic Azeris write off debt, and obtain cheap credits and easy loans for the farmers. Mousavi did win in the West-Azerbaijan region, using his ethnic ties to win over the urban voters in the densely populated Tehran province... by gaining the vote of the middle and upper class districts, whereas he lost badly in the adjoining working class suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

"The careless and distorted emphasis on 'ethnic voting' cited by writers from The Financial Times and The New York Times to justify calling Ahmadinejad's victory a 'stolen vote' is matched by the media's willful and deliberate refusal to acknowledge a rigorous nationwide public opinion poll** conducted by two US experts just 3 weeks before the vote, which showed Ahmedinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin - even larger than his electoral victory on June 12. This poll revealed that among ethnic Azeris, Ahmadinejad was favored by a 2 to 1 margin over Mousavi, demonstrating how class interests represented by one candidate can overcome the ethnic identity of the other candidate. The poll also demonstrated how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than 'generational lifestyle'. According to this poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds 'comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups'. The only group which consistently favored Mousavi was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The 'youth vote', which the Western media praised as 'pro-reformist', was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English-speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media. Their overwhelming presence in the Western news reports created what has been referred to as the 'North Tehran syndrome', for the comfortable upper class enclave from which many of these students come. While they may be articulate, well- dressed and fluent in English, they were soundly out-voted in the secrecy of the ballot box.

"In general, Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may have been a reflection of the oil workers' opposition to the 'reformist' program, which included proposals to 'privatize' public enterprises. Likewise, the incumbent did very well [in] the border provinces because of his emphasis on strengthening national security from US and Israeli threats in light of an escalation of US-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan and Israeli-backed incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan, which have killed scores of Iranian citizens...

"What Western commentators and their Iranian proteges have ignored is the powerful impact which the devastating US wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had on Iranian public opinion: Ahmadinejad's strong position on defence matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense postures of many of the opposition's campaign propagandists.

"The great majority of voters probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country and the social welfare system, with all its faults and excesses, could be better defended and improved with Ahmadinejad than with upper class technocrats supported by Western-oriented privileged youth who prize individual life styles over community values and solidarity." (From Iranian Elections: The 'Stolen Elections' Hoax, in Global Depression & Regional Wars, James Petras, 2009, pp 190-193)

[* See my 29/2/08 post Ahmadinejad: Our Part in His Downfall. **This poll was acknowledged in Lyons' own paper but only by way of a dismissive commentary by The Times' Martin Fletcher: "'The fact may be that the re-election of President Ahmadinejad is what the Iranian people want', the pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty wrote in The Washington Post." The best case Fletcher could make out for electoral fraud, however, was: "There is no proof that Mr Ahmadinejad's victory was secured by fraud, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence." (No proof of a fix, but much evidence, 19/6/09)]

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