Moldova Elections – 2nd attempt

August 1, 2009

The 29 July early parliamentary elections in Moldova swept Europe’s last ruling Communist party from power by pro-EU opposition parties. With 98.3 percent of votes counted, the Communist Party won 48 seats in the 101-seat Moldovan parliament and the four opposition parties collected 53 seats. The former Soviet republic has been experiencing a political crisis since the April elections that turned into a week of violent demonstrations by young pro-opposition activists in the capital Chisinau, dubbed the “Twitter revolution” (More in my article “Twitter Revolution – Case Moldova” )

Wednesday’s election is a repeat of the vote on April, however forced not by the protests, but the Communists’ failure to muster the 61 votes needed to elect a president. The result then left the Communists one vote short and parliamentary deputies failed twice to elect a new head of state. After several months of deadlock, Moldova’s long-time Communist leader Vladimir Vorinin was forced to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. After eight years as president, Voronin is now expected to leave power.

More about April elections can be found from my article “Election in Moldova – Nato perspective blocked”.

The campaign

Moldova has been in political paralysis since April 5 parliamentary elections sparked violent protests, with the opposition claiming the ballot was faked. According OSCE’s preliminary observation report the Political parties frequently used these events in their campaigns to blame each other for the eruption of violence. The campaign atmosphere was highly polarized, and there was severe antagonism between the opposition and the ruling party. As in previous elections, voting did not take place on the territory that since 1992 is under the de facto control of the Transdniestrian authorities. In Corjova, a disputed commune on the eastern bank, voting was prevented by seemingly organized groups. The place is also president Voronin’s native village. (More about Transdnistria/Moldova dispute’s background may be found from my article “Transdnistrian number game”)

Elections were contested by eight political parties whose lists of candidates were registered by the CEC in an inclusive process. Registration of two independent candidates was refused due to incomplete documentation. Two political parties, the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the European Action Movement (MAE), as well as one independent candidate, withdrew from the race. The campaign atmosphere remained strained mostly due to mutual accusations between the governing party and the opposition regarding the eruption of violence during the April demonstrations. At campaign events throughout the country, the PCRM showed a film “Attack on Moldova” portraying opposition parties, with some foreign involvement, as organizers of the 7 April events. Likewise, during their campaign events, the PLDM, AMN and PL used footage depicting the events as instigated by the PCRM. The only party that openly called for an end to these disputes was the PDM under its newly elected chairman who was a prominent PCRM figure and who had left the PCRM in June 2009. (Source – OSCE report mentioned earlier).

The results

According OSCE observation report this time parliamentary elections in Moldova overall were well administered, allowing for competition of political parties representing a plurality of views. Many of the OSCE and Council of Europe commitments were met.

The results are described in following table where I have added also the April 5th voting results for comparison:

Election

///

Party

Election June 29th 2009

Election April 5th 2009

Turnout 58,8 %

Turnout 54 %

%

Seats

%

Seats

Communist Party

45,07

48

49,48

60

Liberal Party

14,36

15

13,13

15

Liberal Democratic Party

16,40

17

13,43

15

Democratic Party

12,61

13

Our Moldova Alliance

7,37

8

9,77

11

Short characterization:

  • The Communist Party came to power in 2001; leader Vladimir Voronin will step down after serving two four-year terms as president.
  • Liberal Democratic Party is Pro-European, pro-NATO; considered a party of technocrats.
  • Liberal Party is Pro-European, pro-NATO; wants closer relationship with Romania.
  • The big winner Democratic Party supports Moldova’s eventual membership in the European Union — a long-term goal. Party now led by Marian Lupu, who quit senior position in Communist Party in June.
  • Our Moldova Alliance is Pro-European, pro-NATO and favors closer ties with Romania.

Outside reactions

Romanian President Traian Basescu said Thursday 30th that “opposition and democratic forces” had won the snap parliamentary elections in neighbouring Moldova. Elections in Moldova are followed closely in neighbouring Romania. Most of Moldova was part of Romania until its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940. Moldova won independence in 1991. Relations between the neighbouring countries have deteriorated since Moldova’s outgoing Communist government blamed the riots on neighbouring EU member Romania, kicking out Romania’s ambassador. (Source BalkanInsight)

More about Romania/Moldova dispute’s background in my article “Twitter revolution – no coup d’etat but big drama anyway” .

In the wake of the disputed April vote, President Voronin had accused Romania, an EU and NATO member, of engineering a coup d’etat. Turning toward Moscow, he won a $500 million loan pledge from Russia and a $1 billion pledge from China. That money may not materialize if the opposition forms a government, but at this time that kind of outcome is pure speculation.

Changes?

As follow-up at least the government and president of Moldova will change in near future. It seems probable that the new government was likely to adopt a pro-EU “tilt”, and enact important market reforms, but without alienating Russia.

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vlad Filat, said the election was a victory for truth and that it would definitely seek to form a coalition with other opposition parties – the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party and Our Moldova Alliance. He told Reuters: “There will definitely be a coalition, a wide coalition in the interests of the people. We will find the necessary compromise and find agreement so that Moldova finally gets democratic rule.” (Sources The Guardian and BBC )

Analysts say there is also the possibility that the Democratic Party, which won 12.5% of the vote or 13 seats, might forge a governing coalition with the Communists that would have a combined total of 61 seats. However, the leader of the Democrats, Marian Lupu, a former parliamentary speaker who defected from the Communists, was dismissive of such a deal on Thursday morning. (Sources The Guardian and BBC )

The opposition parties do not have enough votes on their own to elect the president, and will be forced to horse-trade with the Communists. Moldova’s most likely new president is Marian Lupu – the former Communist party speaker now leader of the opposition Democratic party. Lupu is the most likely candidate to attract the support of some Communist deputies, analysts believe. Some analysts expect the Communist party to seek to remain in power through making a deal to split the opposition front in which Democratic Party leader, Marian Lupu, who left the Communists only last month, agrees to support his former party in return for the ouster of President Vladimir Voronin.(Sources The Guardian and BBC )

Russia keeps troops in Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region and supplies over 90% of the nation’s energy. It has promised $500m in loans to help Moldova through the global economic crisis. China offered $1bn.


Bottom line

Moldova is one of the frontlines of “battlefield” of interest spheres between EU and Russia, between U.S. and Russia and between future energy political deals. It is also a test for international law, conflict management and territorial sovereignty.

The power swift from Communist Party to opposition will probably not be very significant as the opposition’s win was guaranteed by new Democratic Party leaded by Communist Party’s ex top official.

In terms of foreign policy will continue the tightrope walking between the EU and Russia. There maybe will be more cooperation with the EU avoiding however same time conflict with Russia. Relations with Romania will be normalized and Transdnistria will continue its life as de facto independent state.


IRAN – revolution postponed

July 7, 2009

Revolution in Iran seems to happen only in western dreams and media. Protests took place only in Tehran and a few large cities and are now nearly disappeared. Smaller towns and rural areas have been very quiet whole the time after elections. The opposition may not yet have been defeated, but the problems are much deeper than calming the streets. The struggle inside ruling elite is continuing and one could estimate that Iran’s political system is now undergoing a major crisis of legitimacy over allegations of a fraudulent presidential elections.  So revolution is postponed in this still theocratic state.

Iran is one of the oldest existing civilizations on globe, its population is well educated young and big and it owns huge energy resources so the country can have sustainable success also in future as regional superpower.  From my point of view people in Iran know best how to develop their country without outside guidance – indeed foreign interference can only make situation worse as seen in history.  However for foreign countries it is extremely important to try understand developments in Iran and consider their future cooperation according that background. From western perspective the key question is if foreign policy of Iran is changing and if to which direction.

While U.S. and EU are still looking their positions related postelection situation in Iran the country itself appears to be caught between strategies: one that does not want to downgrade diplomatic relations with other nations for fear of international isolation, and another that is pushing the concept of foreign interference for domestic reasons.

U.S. interference

Tehran’s foreign policy, particularly its policies toward the U.S., has its own strategic logic, and is based on Iran’s ambitions and Tehran’s perception of what threatens them.

Iranians are deeply skeptical about American motives in the Middle East. In 1953, the CIA, with cooperation with Intelligence Service, triggered a coup that deposed the popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, who had nationalised Iran’s oil industry, monopolised by the British. Mossadeq had wanted to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in which the British had a majority share. The British and Americans organised a coup, put Mossadeq under house arrest and placed Pahlavi firmly in control as Shah.

Added to this are the insults and damages that the United States has inflicted on Iran over the past two-and-a-half decades. Iranians will never forget that the United States tilted toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. By all accounts, Iran would have won the war if the United States had not interfered. Moreover, it is widely known that the United States provided poison gas and other chemical weapons to Iraq during that conflict.

Behind the soothing rhetoric of  “the promotion of democracy “, Washington’s actions aim to impose regimes that are opening their markets to the US without conditions and which are aligning themselves to their foreign policy claims Thierry Meyssan, a journalist and chairperson of Voltaire Network.  Meyssan describes in his article “Color revolution fails in Iran” –  two of U.S. tools for democracy promotion related also to Iran namely the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), created in 1982 and the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in 1984; both of these institutions are organically intertwined. I quote:

Legally the NED is a not-for-profit organization under US law, financed by an annual grant voted by Congress as part of the State Department budget. In order to operate, this organization is co-financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is part of the State Department. This legal structure is used jointly as a cover by the American CIA, the British MI6 and the Australian ASIS (and occasionally by Canadian and New Zealand secret services).

The NED presents itself as an agency promoting democracy. It intervenes either directly or using one of its four tentacles: one designed to subvert unions, the second responsible for corrupting management organizations, the third for left-wing parties and the fourth for right-wing parties.

The operation conducted in 2009 in Iran belongs to the long list of pseudo revolutions. First, a 400 million dollar budget was voted in 2007 by Congress to orchestrate a « regime change » in Iran. This was in addition to the ad hoc budgets of the NED, the USAID, the CIA & Co. How this money is being used is unclear, but the three main recipients are the following: the Rafsanjani family, the Pahlavi family and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran. “Another is the presence in the UK of the Iranian opposition group MKO.” The MKO is the People’s Mujahedin Organisation, which was taken off the list of terrorist groups by the EU in January.

Western manuscript – Restore Monarchy project

What was the practical plan to change regime in Iran?  One quite well based option is described by William O.Beeman in an article “Washington might have picked Iran’s future king and premier” -published in Iran Press Service.  Of course IPS can be seen as biased media but the script shows how western interference can be seen from Iran’s perspective.  Anyway  Mr. Beeman is a writer and professor of anthropology at The University of Minnesota and he describes western script for regime change in Iran as follows:

The form of government would be a Constitutional Monarchy, with the Head of State being Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was deposed in the 1978-79 Islamic revolution, and Sohrab Sobhani as his Prime Minister. The Bush Administration apparently has a handpicked American “plumber” ready to go in Iran, much like Ahmed Chalabi (the leader of the Defence Department-backed Iraqi National Congress) in Iraq. This is Sohrab “Rob” Sobhani, an Iranian-American associated with the neoconservatives in Washington. With Reza Pahlavi as Shah, the 40-ish Sobhani would presumably be prime minister or president.

The promoter of the Administration policy is American Enterprise Institute Freedom Chair Holder Michael Ledeen –  one of four advisers in regular consultation with White House strategist, Karl Rove.  ledeen and Sobhani recently established the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) to promote this regime change.

Reza Pahlavi had been living quietly in Maryland until 11 September, when he began to address the Iranian community via the internet and satellite television. This prompted the Iranian community to dub him the “Internet Prince.” Rob Sobhani, who has known Reza Pahlavi since childhood, was actually born in Kansas. He became a specialist in energy policy. He has had his finger in many pies in Washington, including consultation on the construction of an oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan. Sobhani’s interests in regime change are very clear and very consonant with American desires. They are largely commercial. Following his graduation from Georgetown, he became head of a Caspian Energy Consulting, a firm dealing with the transport and sale of Caspian oil. He also notes that supporting a secularisation of Iran would lead to easier transport of Caspian oil through Iranian territory.

Sobhani also sees secularisation of Iran as beneficial for Israel. This is not surprising, since Israel and Iran had excellent ties before the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution. The Iranian Jewish community is the oldest continuous Jewish community in the world. The community is as prominent in Diaspora as in Iran, with members in powerful positions in the Israeli government and in American life, particularly in California. Elimination of the clerical regime in Iran would eliminate support for (the Iran-backed Lebanese) Hezbollah. It might even lead to renewed trade between Tehran and Tel Aviv.

Ledeen and Sobhani expect to have the coup first, and then present Reza Pahlavi as the emergent ruler. Ledeen said as much in a rally in Los Angeles for Iranian monarchists, saying in effect: Let’s have the revolution first, then worry about who will rule Iran. What Ledeen, who has never traveled to Iran, and Sobhani don’t understand is that for such an operation to work, it cannot be tied to an overt embracing of a restoration of the Monarchy (remembering the CIA engineered counter-coup in 1953 that created an American puppet regime in Iran until 1979). Moreover, it cannot specifically espouse use of the Mojahedeen Khalq Organisation (MKO), the guerrilla movement opposing the Iranian government from Iraq. Both the Pahlavi regime and the Mojahedeen are widely opposed in Iran, even from people who would like to see clerical rule eliminated. To have Reza Pahlavi return to power with American blessing would, for many Iranians, be a continuation of American interference in Iranian affairs.

Change in foreign policy – western view?

European diplomats had meeting on 1st July 2009 but  they made no formal decision to order their envoys home, however  this measure was an option as the European Union — Iran’s biggest trading partner — tried to work out how to defuse the dispute in a way that would shield other embassies in Tehran from similar action (detention of the British Embassy’s Iranian personnel).  A high-ranking Iranian military official demanded that the Europeans apologize for interference in Iran’s affairs, which, he said, disqualified European countries from negotiating on Iran’s nuclear program. The official, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the armed forces chief of staff, was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that because of the European Union’s “interference” in the postelection unrest, the bloc had “totally lost the competence and qualifications needed for holding any kind of talks with Iran.” (Source NYT)

In an interview with The New York Times, a day before his scheduled departure for Moscow on Sunday, Mr. Obama said he had “grave concern” about the arrests and intimidation of Iran’s opposition leaders, but insisted, as he has throughout the Iranian crisis, that the repression would not close the door on negotiations with the Iranian government. “We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community,” Mr. Obama said. (US) The administration, meanwhile, has been preparing for two opposite possibilities: One in which the Iranian leadership seeks to regain a measure of legitimacy by taking up Mr. Obama’s offer to talk — a situation that could put Washington in the uncomfortable position of giving credibility to a government whose actions Mr. Obama has deplored — or one in which Iran rejects negotiations. In comments on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Admiral Mullen (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) seemed to underscore the Pentagon’s concern that an Israeli strike could start a broader conflict, and might simply drive the Iranian nuclear efforts deeper underground. He said any strike on Iran could be “very destabilizing — not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that.” (Source NYT)

Israeli leaders have not asked the United States for approval to attack Iran for fear Washington will turn them down, according to a news report on July 7, 2009 in The Washington Times. Two unnamed Israeli officials close to Benjamin Netanyahu said the prime minister is concerned the White House would not approve an Israeli request to launch military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program. “There was a decision not to press this because it was probably inadequate for the engagement policy and what we know about Obama’s approach to Iran,” one of the officials told the Washington Times.

There are some who believe Bush’s mistake was not to have shifted his aim eastward: that if he was looking for an oil-rich state in the Persian Gulf with links to terrorism and dreams of weapons of mass destruction then Iran, not Iraq, should have been his target. That kind of talk makes others nervous. They fear that the US might one day repeat the Iraq calamity, with the ayatollahs cast in the role of Saddam Hussein.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday that Moscow supports US Administration’s plan to hold direct talks with Iran.Medvedev told reporters that the talks would prepare ground for US to discuss its concerns.
Referring to the countries rights to gain nuclear technology for civilian utility, Medvedev said that producing nuclear energy within the framework of the international regulations and the IAEA must not be considered problematic. The Russian president drew a line between the Iranian nuclear program and that of North Korea and said that Iranian nuclear program is underway while interacting with international bodies, the Islamic republic news agency reported. “North Korea has cut its contacts with the outside world,” the Russian president said expressing his concern about the North Korean test-firing missiles. (Source Farsnes)

Energy aspect

Putting democracy  and civil rights aside for a while the economical aspect has been and is maybe the most important while foreign powers are looking their positions with Iran. As the world’s fourth-highest oil and gas producer Iran can have good economical growth, petrochemical revenues account some 80 % of Iran’s export earnings, much of this income is used to public spending and subsidies (energy subsidies amount to about 17.5 % of GPD according IMF) while a lack of domestic refining capacity means that Iran imports around 40% of its petrol. Iran boasts the biggest reserves of natural gas in the Middle East but its consumption is also high, behind only the US and Russia.  EU and Russia have big interests where this gas will be exported.  More about this e.g. in my article “Is it time to bury Nabucco?


As mentioned earlier privatization of energy sector and transportation routes were a priority in US blueprint “restore Monarchy”.  Also during the last electoral campaign, Rafsanjani required Mir-Hossain Mousavani, his former adversary, to promise he would privatize the oil sector.

Iran’s plans to develop nuclear energy facilities has been crucial factor with Iran’s international relations. Russia has been helping Iran with the construction of the nuclear facility in the southern port city of Bushehr under a contract signed in 1995. Bushehr power plant started its pre-commissioning stage in the presence of Iranian and Russian nuclear experts in February 2009. Tehran and Moscow planning to expand nuclear cooperation in future. (Source Irannewsdaily)

Color revolution postponed

Thierry Meayssan hits the nail on the head in his article “Color revolution fails in Iran”  giving following description:

“ Color revolutions” are to revolutions what Canada Dry is to beer. They look like the real thing, but they lack the flavor. They are regime changes which appear to be revolutions because they mobilize huge segments of the population but are more akin to takeovers, because they do not aim at changing social structures. Instead they aspire to replace an elite with another, in order to carry out pro-American economic and foreign policies. The  “green revolution”  in Tehran is the latest example of this trend.  Behind the soothing rhetoric of “the promotion of democracy”, Washington’s actions aim to impose regimes that are opening their markets to the US without conditions and which are aligning themselves to their foreign policy. However, while these goals are known by the leaders of the “color revolutions”, they are never discussed and accepted by the mobilized demonstrators. In the event when these takeovers succeed, citizens soon rebel against the new policies imposed on them, even if it is too late to turn back. Besides, how can opposition groups who sold their country to foreign interests behind their populations’ backs be considered “democratic”?

When post-election riots started 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 Ahmadinejad 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.  The most news coverage came from Tehran via English speaking students ignoring the provinces, small and medium size cities and villages where Ahmadinejad has his mass base of support (more in pre-election survey).

While the opposition’s supporters were students easily mobilized for street activities 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. Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may reflect energy sector workers’ opposition to the reformist plans privatize public enterprises.  The great majority of voters for the incumbent probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country and the social welfare system, with all of 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.

Mohsen M.Milani, University of South Florida/political science department, estimates that

Unless there is a fundamental change in the existing structural configuration of the Islamic Republic, or in a change in the institution of the Supreme Leader, it is unlikely that Iran will radically change its foreign policy. If anything, the next president of Iran is likely to rely increasingly on nationalistic sentiments in order to bring harmony to a divided, dynamic and assertive Iranian electorate. The Islamic Constitution was deliberately structured to insure that the unelected component of the government, or its Islamic part, dominates its elected or the republican part.

A summary below made by BBC describes good today’s ruling system in Iran:

Tehran’s top priority is the survival of the Islamic Republic as it exists now. The strategic direction of the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been determined by the Supreme Leader, in consultation with the main centers of power in Iran’s highly factionalized polity. As the second most powerful man in the country, the Iranian president has profound impact on strategy and policy, but the Supreme Leader — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — is the final “decider.” As the country’s most powerful figure, he is the commander of the armed forces and in charge of the intelligence and security forces and serves for life. He — not the president — makes the key decisions regarding war and peace, Iran’s nuclear policies, and relations with Washington. The Islamic Constitution was deliberately structured to insure that the unelected component of the government, or its Islamic part, dominates its elected or the republican part.

One aspect that something is changing inside Iran’s power structure is that the opponents of new elite is making mass-scale money transfers from Iran. European security experts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, confirmed reports in Italian and Turkish newspapers that large sums of money had been sent to havens outside the country from banks controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

Ahmadinejad’s success in last  election is strenghtening a process begun in June 2005, with his first election as president. Slowly he is making power swift from clerics of Qom to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), particularly the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. Revolutionary Guards have seized ownership of Iranian revolution from the clerics, whom they accused of being weak-willed opportunists and corrupted hypocrites.

From discussion forums a couple of opinions maybe are expressing also wider mood in today’s Iran:

However under Ahmadinejad I see that we have a president who will not take insults from anyone or any country, this makes me and millions of other Iranians very happy.

I have no doubt, he also did an excellent job standing up to the world war criminals, thieves, liars and hypocrites. My only dilemma is accepting the way ordinary citizens & protestors on the streets were treated.

Bottom line

Abbas Barzegar concludes the post election outcome quite good in his article  “Media fantacies in Iran” as follows:

Soon, Iran will fade from the news cycle and its horrors will blend with those of the rest of the world. Ahmadinejad will serve four years as a lame-duck president, tempered by Khamenei domestically and internationally. Mousavi, along with Khatami, will probably retire from politics while Rafsanjani secures his assets as quickly as possible. (Ali) Larijani (Parliament Speaker)  will be the supreme leader’s new man and after leading the charge on election reform will probably be the next president.

The West cannot afford to ignore any regime in Iran –  there are a number of issues that one just has to negotiate with the current Iranian regime such as the nuclear programme, regional security and economy-related problems

Professor Ali Ansari, a noted authority on the country, predicts that a regime that now “suffers from a serious domestic legitimacy problem – and which knows it – will seek a foreign foe, something to rally the country around.” He predicts “acts of provocation”, and only hopes Israel is wise enough not to take the bait.

The worst thing for foreign powers – excluding Israel’s airstrike and all its consequences –  is to come out in open support of opposition demonstrations – as the Bush administration did so recklessly in 2003, forcing reformist leaders and opposition politicians to shun protesters for fear of being denounced as traitors.  Same action today would be fatal for Mousavi and the current Iranian opposition.

The best thing the United States and EU could do is to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, get involved with commercial dealings, and give the Iranians some reason to undertake reforms ­ a better life in partnership with the West. From other side Russia has long-term interests in Central Eurasia and with Iran it will continue to implement large-scale economic projects so Iran’s partnership with Russia can also create economical base for Iran’s reforms. In time, the younger generation, which makes up more than 75 percent of the population, will take over the system which now is on developing stage.

Related articles:

No revolution but potential for change anyway” by Ari Rusila

Iran-Twitter-Revolution” by Ari Rusila

Where will the power lie in Iran?” By New York Times

Iran: the new elite” by Vladimir Yurtayev


Iran – no Revolution but potential for Change anyway

June 29, 2009

In my previous article “Iran-Twitter-Revolution”    I had some doubts that revolution is coming soon concluding however that something historic is afoot in Iran today. I order to understand events in today’s Iran I think they should be put in wider context of Iran’s history and ruling system.  In this article I try to do so before jumping to analyze of recent elections which from my point of view are the key element while estimating the basic conditions for revolution, coup d’état, power swift or some – even historic – change in Iran’s political climate.

History of democracy in Iran

Iran is a country with one of the oldest democratic systems in the Middle East. In order to understand the background to the demands of the demonstrators it is necessary to look briefly at the major developments in Iran prior to and since the Islamic revolution.  My source which I quote here is Dr. Farhang Jahanpour, Oxford and his article “Iran’s Suppreme Leader silences the opposition”.

Over one hundred years ago, the Iranian people staged the “Constitutional Revolution” (1905-11) against the power of despotic kings, and wrote a constitution that transferred power to the people’s representatives in the Majlis (Parliament). Throughout the past century, even at the worst of times, different governments have found it expedient to hold elections, even if they were not completely free and fair. The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 was essentially a democratic revolution aimed at extending people’s freedoms and establishing a truly democratic state. Although Iran had made great material progress under the Shah, the brutality of the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK and the lack of political freedom, forced people to rise up to achieve greater freedom and democracy. Sadly, as the result of infighting among various democratic forces and as the result of the stature that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had gained as the leader of the revolution, the mullahs ended up controlling all levers of power. Instead of laying the foundations of a more democratic state, Ayatollah Khomeini established an Assembly of Experts (dominated by clerics who were allegedly experts in Islamic law) and the novel concept of the Velayat-e Faqih, or the rule of the chief jurisconsult, emerged as the basis of the new constitution. This concept which had no precedent in the history of Islam enshrined the power of the clergy over the state and resulted in the creation of a theocracy.

The unexpected election of Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 election, with the votes of over seventy percent of the eligible voters with 80% turnout, opened a new chapter in the post-revolutionary history of Iran and provided the possibility of reform from within. However, his efforts were at every step blocked by the rightwing clergy and their agents in the judiciary and especially in the Guardian Council whose clerical members are appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i. This body supervises the elections and approves the credentials of the candidates that can run for high office. So, even in the best of times, only the candidates that are approved by the regime can run in the elections. The nation-wide student uprising in June 1999 was brutally crushed, with a number of students killed or injured. The reformers, and especially the young people, lost faith in the system and adopted a negative and detached stance towards the regime.

Some characteristics about Iran ruling system

Iran’s political system is a combination of elected and un-elected institutions.  Some unelected institutions like Guardian council has vetting powers e.g. to bills decided in Parliament and they also can bar candidates from standing in elections  to Parliament, the Presidency and the Assembly of Experts. A graphic version of Iran’s power system below:


  • The president is elected for four years and can serve no more than two consecutive terms. The constitution describes him as the second-highest ranking official in the country. He is head of the executive branch of power and is responsible for ensuring the constitution is implemented. Members of the cabinet, or Council of Ministers, are chosen by the president. They must be approved by parliament, which in 2005 rejected four of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s initial nominees for his hardline cabinet. Parliament can also impeach ministers.
  • The 290 members of the Majlis, or Parliament, are elected by popular vote every four years. The parliament has the power to introduce and pass laws, as well as to summon and impeach ministers or the president. However, all Majlis bills have to be approved by the conservative Guardian Council.
  • The responsibilities of the Assembly of Experts are to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove him if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties. The assembly usually holds two sessions a year and is officially based in the holy city of Qom. Direct elections for the 86 members of the current assembly are held every eight years and are next due in 2014. Only clerics can join the assembly and candidates for election are vetted by the Guardian Council. The assembly is dominated by conservatives. Its current chairman is former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
  • Guardian council is the most influential body in Iran and is currently controlled by conservatives. It consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. The council has to approve all bills passed by parliament and has the power to veto them if it considers them inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The council can also bar candidates from standing in elections to parliament, the presidency and the Assembly of Experts.
  • The role of Supreme Leader in the constitution is based on the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini, who positioned the leader at the top of Iran’s political power structure. The Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appoints the head of the judiciary, six of the members of the powerful Guardian Council, the commanders of all the armed forces, Friday prayer leaders and the head of radio and TV. He also confirms the president’s election. The Leader is chosen by the clerics who make up the Assembly of Experts.
  • The Armed forces comprise the Revolutionary Guard and the regular forces. The two bodies are under a joint general command. All leading army and Revolutionary Guard commanders are appointed by the Supreme Leader and are answerable only to him.
  • The Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Leader with an ultimate adjudicating power in disputes over legislation between the parliament and the Guardian Council. The Supreme Leader appoints its members, who are prominent religious, social and political figures.

 

 

Results

One of the key questios is what was the real result of Iran elections.  Official results gave 63% of the vote to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 34% to Mir Hossein Mousavi. The Mousavi camp say the true result — allegedly leaked by the interior ministry — had its candidate winning more than 60% of the vote.  I have not any reliable first hand source, but sc. leaked real results are claimed to be following:


Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty claim in their Washington Post –article Monday, June 15, 2009 that the election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. I quote:

Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election. Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our pre-election survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.

Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.

The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians. When our poll was taken, almost a third of Iranians were also still undecided. Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud.

The full report of Iran poll can be found as pdf here!

Iranian economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani – professor at Virginia Tech and guest scholar at Brookings – noted in the New York Times online evidence that Ahmadinejad’s programs to distribute income and wealth more evenly have begun to bear fruit, explaining his support in rural areas and small towns: “Once these factors are taken into account, it is not so implausible that Mr. Ahmadinejad may have actually won a majority of the votes cast, though not those cast in Tehran.

But if the Iranian election was not stolen, it does make the protest and crackdown fundamentally different political events: it fundamentally undermines the claim of the protesters to be speaking for the majority of the Iranian population, who just voted for a different candidate than the one supported by the protesters. Only a new vote with new rules and independent monitoring is likely to end the argument, and so far Iran’s ultimate rulers have refused to contemplate such an outcome.

Isolated protest?

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated.

“Westerners love to overstate the importance of street demonstrations abroad. In our eyes anyone flashing the local equivalent of a v-sign salute represents all that is decent and democratic in the world. But we do them a disservice by raising false hopes and proclaiming their every protest as the next velvet revolution” writes Lionel Beehner in his The Guardian colum “Iran’s manufactured revolution”. Beehner continues “despite the hopes of overexcited western commentators, demonstrations in Iran are likely to change very little Regimes do not collapse as easily as we think. There were similar pronouncements that the junta in Burma was finished after hundreds of saffron-clad monks took to the streets a few years back. Well, guess what happened: not much. The junta continues to clamp down on the opposition.”

While background data informs that according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized and urban population seems to be on the streets one can get impression that the demonstrators are good representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban”. Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as elsewhere too the students at elite universities are only fraction of the whole Tehran population. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. However it seems that just the Tehran professional and student classes possess civic courage to go on the streets. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

George Friedman from Stratfor notes quite well that

The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.

As in Iran, none of the poorer folks from the provinces bothered to show up.  Could the reason be that they like and voted their pandering president, even if the west couldn’t stand him. There just seems to be no popular support for regime change.  Ahmadinejad has helped the poor and lower middle class by increasing pensions, sometimes by more than doubling them, loans, and government workers wages, also increasing and maintaining financial support for the families of those killed or wounded during the Iran-Iraq War. The New York Times has reported that Ahmadinejad “has also handed out so-called justice shares of state firms that are selling stock to the public, and provided low-interest loans to young married couples and entrepreneurs.”

The Iran’s purchasing power parity is estimated to be about US$800 Billion, or about $12,000 per capita, in 2007.  Life expectancy is about 71 years, and literacy about 85-90%. School enrollment is 100%. Iran has the 17th largest economy in the world ahead of Australia and Israel. Iran’s oil and gas reserves are known and when the logistic location of country is not so bad, better say opposite, the country has relatively good change for sustainable development even more regional superpower than it is today.

From the media coverage we can see a lot of Iranians in towns and cities protesting, but what about the rural areas? A grassroots movement cannot succeed unless they have massive support from all segments of the populace. And while the majority of all Iranians are not actually from the middle class, not live in major cities and not have Internet access, a justified conclusion can be that the mullahs will have no problem ignoring or crushing the isolated (student) movement.

 

Foreign interference

Among typical conspiracy theories Iran’s political leadership can have some base to their claims about foreign involvement to destabilize Iran. Already years some western NGOs like the Open Society Institute, Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy have been financing, training, supporting and mobilizing opposition movements in countries that have been targeted for destabilization, often during elections and usually organized around an identifiable color. These “color revolutions” sprang up in the past decade and have so far successfully destabilized the governments of the Ukraine, Lebanon, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, among others. The only thing different is that now social media and networks are being employed to amplify the effect of (and the impression of) internal protests. One mechanism by which the U.S. interferes in the internal political affairs of other nations is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental agency with funding from both Congress and private individuals whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to U.S. foreign policy goals. In February, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested emergency funding from Congress to the amount of $75 million, on top of a previously allocated $10 million, “to mount the biggest ever propaganda campaign against the Tehran government”, in the words of The Guardian. The money “would be used to broadcast US radio and television programmes into Iran, help pay for Iranians to study in America and support pro-democracy groups inside the country.” The propaganda effort would include “extending the government-run Voice of America’s Farsi service from a few hours a day to round-the-clock coverage.”

However, there are credible reports that the CIA has been working for two years to destabilize the Iranian government. On May 23, 2007, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported on ABC News: “The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell ABC News.”On May 27, 2007, the London Telegraph independently reported: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”A few days previously, the Telegraph reported on May 16, 2007, that Bush administration John Bolton told the Telegraph that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.”On June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.

The protests in Tehran no doubt have many sincere participants. The protests also have the hallmarks of the CIA orchestrated protests in Georgia and Ukraine. Several commentators have already dredged from the memory hole press reporting at the time on a presidential “finding” on Iran, which is the formal method for the president to initiate covert actions against another country. Back in 2007 — plenty of lead time for this election — the president met with the Congressional Star Chamber, the “gang of 8″ House and Senate leaders, and was granted the authorization to use some $400 million for among other things, as the Washington Post  – reported, “activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups opposed to the country’s ruling clerics…

More about US involvement one may find from an article of Daniel McAdams on June 19, 2009 which I have used also as my source related foreign interference.

 

Battle inside Power structure

More important for Iran’s political future than street protests is the battle inside the power structure, tensions within the Iranian political elite. The Supreme Leader Khamenei also faced a stark warning from another senior cleric and onetime rival, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. “If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful,” Montazeri said. He called for an impartial committee to be set up to resolve the Islamic Republic’s worst crisis since the 1979 revolution. (The Guardian 25th June 2009)

In his article “The Iranian Election and the Revolution Test”on June 22, 2009 George Friedman from Stratfor claims that many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues. In my opinion Mr. friedman hits the nail on head and I quote his analysis:

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome. The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime. Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.

My conclusions

Putting my own sympathies – I admire people who have courage to risk their lives for their ideals – aside I would conclude following related today’s events in Iran:

  • Iran’s ruling system can be criticized especially due the powerful role of non elected institutions in the whole.  Even the system is far away from western democratic ideals I however see existing system more democratic than in most other Middle East or Arabic countries
  • During last elections there probably was some irregular acts and wrongdoings but not so massive fraud demonstrators are claiming.  Indeed the election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people.
  • The demonstrations are actually representing a small fraction of society – mainly students and middle-class in Tehran – and as such they will be isolated from other segments of society and unable to deliver any revolution in Iran.
  • There has been foreign interference for years to destabilize Iran’s regime, however foreign influence for recent demonstrations could be estimated to be minimal and not that scale what Iran’s leadership has been claiming after election protests.
  • The battle inside Iran’s power structure can lead to radical changes inside ruling clerical elite and maybe also a power shift from non elected to elected institutions.
  • The short-term effects might well result in either a harsher regime or a more liberal regime.  The first choice would probably be counterproductive the later would stabilize Iran by channeling peoples demands for democracy instead of theocracy.

Iran – Twitter – Revolution

June 22, 2009

People are on the streets in Tehran, the death toll is rising, and rumors are spreading that not only students but also some figures inside Establishment would begin to openly challenge Ali Khamenei’s legitimacy as supreme leader. Some reports claim that Hashemi Rafsanjani – head of the Assembly of Experts, a body that has the constitutional authority to anoint and remove the supreme leader – is trying to assemble a coalition of grand ayatollahs in Qom against Khamenei. It is unprecedented that Ayatollah Montazeri, who was Ayatollah Khomeini’s former heir apparent, a genuine grand ayatollah, has openly challenged both this election and Khamenei’s reign.

Social networks and their citizen-journalists are active while mainstream media can’t cover the real-time events some have already labeled demonstrations as newest Twitter revolution so is there maybe coming a new green revolution or is the picture biased and overemphasized by those who are using these modern networks as mean of modern warfare.

It is unprecedented that Ayatollah Montazeri–who was Ayatollah Khomeini’s former heir apparent, a genuine grand ayatollah, not someone who had mid-ranking credentials and was made an ayatollah overnight like Khamenei–has openly challenged both this election and Khamenei’s reign.


The Results

Results gave 63% of the vote to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 34% to Mir Hossein Mousavi, the strongest opposition candidate, with tiny votes going to the two other contenders. The Mousavi camp say the true result — allegedly leaked by the interior ministry — had its candidate winning more than 60% of the vote. The quarrel is therefore not over a handful of stuffed ballot boxes or a few contentious provinces, but over more than ten million votes.


Since the controversial and hasty crowning of Ahmadinejad only hours after the polls closed, the numbers have been subjected to intense statistical scrutiny by experts around the world, but so far no “smoking gun” has been found hidden in the numbers, and the debate is as fierce as ever.

Ahmadinejad’s claims have some base in a phone poll carried out across all 30 provinces three weeks before the vote that gave Ahmadinejad a 2-1 lead. Also his official share of the vote on Friday was almost identical to the second round result in 2005.

(More this e.g. in Mail&Guardian online

Twitter

Events after Iran’s elections are (again) got early label of Twitter revolution. The social networking site, which allows users to post messages, or “tweets”, of up to 140 characters, has shown itself perfectly suited to a fast-moving situation where there is a thirst for snatches of information in real time.

The new trend of present decade seems to be ‘Internet revolution’. Filipinos, famously, overthrew their government way back in 2001 with the help of text messaging. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was the moment when blogging arrived in the news and earlier this year, Moldovans used Twitter to help organize anti-government protests and now Iran is on the same way. More in my article “Twitter revolution- Case Moldova

While connected people are empowered ones and the real work of Twitter is not only gather people fast on the streets but again it to empowers citizen-journalists at a time when mainstream media reporters can’t get to the scene. Phone footage and grainy pictures were copied onto blogs and news sites, while mainstream broadcasters, their correspondents constrained, relied on user-generated footage in an attempt to circumvent the censored state broadcasts.

Twitter is also misused and or it can show a overemphasized picture of situation, it can also be used for disinformation.  Some rumours on Twitter were quickly repeated and amplified by bloggers: that three million protested in Tehran last weekend (more like a few hundred thousand); that the opposition candidate – Mr Moussavi – was under house arrest (he was being watched); that the president of the election monitoring committee declared the election invalid just after elections (not so).

However, Iran experts and social networking activists say that while Iranian election protesters have certainly used social media tools, no particular technology has been instrumental to organizers’ ability to get people on the street. Indeed, most of the organizing has occurred through far more mundane means: SMS text messages and word of mouth. Before after election riots it was estimated that there were only some 8,600 Twitter users in Iran.  To confuse counteractions the amount today is naturally higher as many supporters abroad have registered themselves as located in Iran.

Twitterers have circulated reports at breakneck speed of the violence being used against protesters in the streets of Iran to millions worldwide, complete with video and photo evidence of government forces firing indiscriminately into crowds, beating people with batons and raiding student dormitories. The Iranian regime’s efforts to block Internet access – and especially the streaming of photos and videos of the violence surrounding the protests – by decreasing the bandwidth, effectively slowing down online access to a frustrating level, tech-savvy Iranians have repeatedly found ways to bypass official restrictions using proxy sites that reroute Iran-based messages to post on Twitter.

Revolution?

So is there revolution going on in Iran?  I doubt – not yet anyway. With Twitter there is a risk that it amplifies one side while forgetting that Mr. Ahmadinejad has real support – surely majority in rural areas.  It may not be that over 60 % like showed in elections but probably as much at least than his main opponent.

However something historic is afoot today in Iran. Here I refer Karim Sadjadpour, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who in Council on Foreign Relations interview June 18th 2009 made following analysis:

The scale of the protests is unprecedented. The depth of people’s sense of injustice and rage is palpable. People are continuing to bravely take to the streets, risking their lives, despite the fact that they’ve been told the Basij [Iranian paramilitary force] and Revolutionary Guards have been authorized to use force. This has not dissuaded them. The fissures we’re seeing amongst revolutionary elites are also unprecedented. It’s very difficult to see how the status quo ante could prevail no matter what happens.

Ahmadinejad won the recent elections thanks to the support of the rural population and the army, but the street protests are an indication that due to profound societal trends the era of the clerical rule in Iran is nearing the end. Currently the regime is able to cope with the tide of street protests which in any case are not going to last long, but the next elections will bring a revolution. The share of the young people in Iran’s population is among the world’s highest and most of the voters in the country are young. Currently an anti-clerical drive is gaining momentum in Iran. As in most countries, the tendency is most widespread among the younger people and intellectuals. It is the essence of the conflict now brewing in Iran that the Islamic clericalism has no adequate response to the challenges of modernity. The clerical regime is failing to lay out a vision of a new Iranian national identity for the country’s population.

People are not calling for a wholesale revolution as they were in 1979. I’m not hearing the word enqelab, i.e. revolution, mentioned by the protestors. There exists a political maturity now that didn’t exist then. People don’t have the same naïve, utopian dreams that they had in 1979. They want a system that is representative of the people. Many people believe that the Islamic Republic does have important institutions, such as the institution of the presidency and parliament. But what they want to see is the unelected institutions, which currently have the majority of the constitutional authority, to be either removed or their authority seriously limited.

My view

There is some similarities between cases earlier in Moldova (see e.g. my article “No coup d’etat but big drama anyway” and now in Iran:

  • Demonstrations after elections when opposition looks results as more or less fabricated
  • Use of Twitter to mobilize fast crowds on the streets
  • Use of Twitter as alternative source to mainstream (inside country and abroad) media to give real or other side of picture about situation on the ground
  • Demonstrations implemented mainly by young urban citizens while rural majority quietly is bystander or supporting government
  • Some conspiracy theories about foreign involvement occur (in Moldova government accused Romania, in Iran Israel)

Coming months will show if the outcome in Iran will follow that in Moldova where new elections are waited to come soon, not directly because of demonstrations but due the conflicting views inside establishment. What is clear is that in Iran courageous, inspiring young people are putting their bodies in front of bullets and tear gas so the real pressure is boiling on the ground.

Like expected the response of Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei’s first response was  very firm. That’s his modus operandi as a despot: Never compromise in the face of pressure, it only projects weakness and invites more pressure. The real question in Iran – as well in Moldova and Georgia – will be how the present regime will copy the unrest in near future.  Violence and oppressive measures are short term actions; the sustainable solution would be to moderate policy by taking citizens’ concerns seriously.  If the pressure on the ground will not be channeled through existing regime it is only question of time when boiling will change the regime more or less violent way.

For online follow-up via twitter I would recommend link “Iran Unrest – twazzup twitter



Europe Day Finnish Way and EU elections

May 11, 2009

Due the election year Europe Day’s main event in Helsinki, Finland, got quite high level speakers. The Day was celebrated in amusement park, the Finnish Commissioner, Prime minister and Minister of Europe affairs spoke, MEPs had a panel discussion, also a number of MEP candidates were there. Only one was missing – the audience.

The Commissioner and Europe minister made their normal marketing speeches so nothing to remember about them. Prime minister however had more abrupt approach, while the MEPs got telling-off for their recent voting in European Parliament (A part of MEPs voted against Finnish government’s position in case of working hours of transport entrepreneurs).

MEP candidates were also disappointed about program because there was no place for them to speak at all. The reporters got some person representing sc common people for interview, but he was only passing site hurrying to use fun fair equipments shortly commenting only “frankly I am not interested about EU”.

There was also other Europe Day event in Helsinki, which got more audience. It was organized by Wine magazine and Association of Finnish Liquer Stores. The theme was European Wine Culture. Also here the “Europeanization” of Finns got some setback as in cold weather the participants desired a bit stronger drinks. Also some Wine experts missed more Wines from Australia, America etc instead of Wines from Europe.

As conclusion of Europe Day in Finland I could say that the average Finnish taxpayer has own priorities, which does not include EU on the top as well I could estimate a landslide victory to the don’t know/don’t care party in EP elections.

Is this the democratic deficit?  It is said that in those areas in which it has a say, the European parliament is ultimately the only body that can actively check and stop European governments when they go into excess.

In principle EP can act then like monitoring body at its best (in reality it rarely can agree to like that) but it can not have initiative to create some new policy.  From field worker (funded by EU) experience I would say that there is more monitors in EU than those who actually are doing some real jobs. And even then some EU money is squandered to nothing due the heavy bureaucracy.

From my point of view subsidiary principle should be widen so that more legislation should be implemented at national level and those few remaining issues could be decided between governments and implemented by European Commission and its agencies. With this approach the whole EP could be closed as useless extra body.


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