Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Republic Revival

The masses of Iran have always been a force to reckon with. And every government that ruled Iran would agree.

So, the scenes of angry mobs on the streets of Tehran and other places, following the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after 12-June Presidential Elections, are not really strange or new.

But the distrust over election results has become increasingly evident from the enraged demonstrations supporting the ousted candidate, and former Prime Minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and other moderates.

The power of people is such that, surprisingly, the Guardian Council - Iran's top legislative body - is now even considering a recount of ballot in areas contested by the losing candidates. But it comes only after a massive protest on Monday (June 15) involved hundreds of thousands of people – who, according to BBC, is the largest since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago – and only after the Radio announced seven deaths during that protest.

Whether this mass movement will grow on to change the course of Iran is something for us to speculate.

But, an unprecedented 85% voter turnout, requiring extended polling time, is itself a testimony to the enormous enthusiasm that these elections have generated in a land already filled with politically-active people.

Returning to a four-year presidential term, with 62.6 % of the vote, Ahmadinejad is saying these were ‘Free and Healthy’ elections. But his main contender, Mousavi – who got 33.7% - and his supporters completely disagree. And the disagreement has spilled onto the streets in violent forms. And other countries are looking at the re-elected leadership with curious suspicion. Not many congratulatory letters to the President yet.

What is noteworthy is this. About a third of Iran's eligible voters were born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They grew up without direct memories of the early upheavals, such as the storming of the U.S. Embassy and the 444-day hostage standoff, or the early years of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Their views are moderate and liberal, and often defined by the borderless world of the Web, which Mousavi tapped to build early momentum; while Ahmadinejad relied heavily on state-controlled media.

There were TV debates, in which the two main candidates aggressively confronted each other on a range of issues; a relatively new mode of electioneering in Iran.

There was facebook. The government’s blocking and – later, after protests - unblocking of facebook, the social networking site; a sign of the growing use of technology by youth who make up most of Mousavi’s support.

And then there was texting. And allegations of jamming of text-messaging by the government, just before elections. Texting was yet another way the Mousavi team tapped the power of the youth.

And then, there were potatoes. Potatoes? Yes. Potatoes. Amusingly, "death to potatoes" ("marg bar sibzamini" in Farsi) was a new chant by Mousavi - making a mockery of government alleging that it was giving away 400,000 tons of free potatoes to voters.

But, of course, there are definitely weightier issues than potatoes. Like Iran’s nuclear programme, and its extremely defiant anti-US stance. From a world perspective, these were the real issues that necessitated a change. And Mausavi front had been promising a moderate stand on these.

But now it cannot deliver for at least four more years, if Ahmadinejad stays in power, and/or if the election recount – if it happens – still favours the ruling President.

In four more years, the number of disappointed youth could grow. And will they stay silent? Are they staying silent? Knowing the powerful people of Iran, it is not so hard to tell.


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