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Imperialism and Iran’s Elections

Commentary by Kosta Harlan |
June 25, 2009
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A struggle has broken out over the results of Iran’s presidential elections, held Friday June 12, which resulted in the apparent landslide victory of incumbent President Ahmadinejad. On Friday night, before the results had been announced, the main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, declared himself the winner. The following day, Iran's election commission announced that Ahmadinejad had won with 62% of the vote. Mousavi responded with allegations of vote-rigging. This set into motion a chain of events that has resulted in hundreds of thousands coming out to the streets in protest. Some of the protests turned into riots, with protesters attacking police, government offices and banks and burning cars. 19 people are reported to have died in clashes with the government. 

The subsequent media barrage has been so deafening that some of the basic facts and issues surrounding the election have been completely obscured. The unquestioned assumption propagated by the mainstream media is that the election was stolen. 

The problem is, the only independent poll conducted four weeks before the election predicted a result very much akin to the official results from Iran's election commission. The poll, conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, surveyed opinion in all 30 of Iran's provinces. It showed Ahmadinejad with a 2 to 1 lead over Mousavi (Washington Post, 6/15/09), which corresponds to the official tally of 63% for Ahmadinejad and 34% for Mousavi. As for Mohsen Rezai and Mehdi Karroubi, the other opposition candidates, the poll predicted they would earn 1% and 2% of the vote, respectively; while the official tally shows them winning 1.73% and 0.85%. It is clear that the poll was remarkably accurate in its predictions.  

The poll also highlighted some of the class divisions around the elections. For example, Mousavi had majority support only among university students and the highest-income Iranians, while those who identified as working-class and poor favored Ahmadinejad. Thus while hundreds of thousands of university students, professionals and better-educated Iranians can be seen protesting in the affluent suburbs of Tehran and other cities, rural poor and workers have not been reported in large numbers at the opposition rallies. This reflects the fact that Mousavi's program of greater western investment, privatization and de-regulation played well with some of Iran's more privileged social classes. 

Those who allege voter fraud either ignore this poll or attempt to come up with all kinds of misleading arguments as to why it was inaccurate. On the other hand, one can imagine that if the poll had shown Mousavi with a 2-1 lead, every corporate news commentator on the planet would be holding up this poll as decisive evidence.

It is no small matter that not a shred of hard evidence has been produced to indicate that the vote was manipulated. Abbas Barzegar, writing in the Guardian newspaper, puts it this way:

"One should recall that in three decades of presidential elections, the accusations of rigging have rarely been levied against the vote count. Elections here are typically controlled by banning candidates from the start or closing opposition newspapers in advance.

In this election moreover, there were two separate governmental election monitors in addition to observers from each camp to prevent mass voter fraud. The sentimental implausibility of Ahmedinejad's victory that Mousavi's supporters set forth as the evidence of state corruption must be met by the equal implausibility that such widespread corruption could take place under clear daylight." (Guardian, 6/13/09) 

Barzegar concludes, “It seems that wishful thinking got the better of credible reporting.”  

Anyone who takes a serious look at the facts and conditions in Iran would have to agree. There is a very good reason why the Mousavi protests have received such tremendous coverage in CNN, BBC, FOX and all the major mainstream television, radio, internet and other media outlets. It is the same reason why the Obama administration intervened in preventing a temporary shutdown of the internet communication site Twitter, which is being used supposedly by Iranian students (although the evidence suggests that much of this content originates outside of Iran) to coordinate protest information and share information. Or why the leaders of the big imperialist powers have all hypocritically “condemned” the Iranian election or expressed their “grave concern” about its fairness. 

The reason Mousavi and the so-called ‘pro-democracy movement’ in Iran have received such lavish coverage is precisely because it is the ‘wishful thinking’ of the big imperial powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, etc. - that Iran’s government will fall. Iran is a thorn in the side of U.S. domination of the Middle East.   

Despite being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and facing the prospect of air strikes by Israel, the Iranian government has been able to chart an independent course that is focused on national development, independence and, most woeful to the imperial powers, the use of oil revenues to better the lot of Iranian people, rather than the profits of the multinational corporations. Iran has also provided significant support to resistance movements, such as Hezbollah, and built alliances with anti-imperialist governments such as Venezuela. 

The United States has been looking to topple the leadership of Iran's government for many years now. During one flare-up in tensions last year, Seymour Hersh reported:

“Late last year [2007], 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." (New Yorker, 7/08/2008)  

One has to ask: what did the Central Intelligence Agency and Joint Special Operations Command do with $400 million over the past year? Could it have something to do with the spectacularly publicized, internationally coordinated and well-funded protest activity in Iran? Instead of investigating this aspect of the story, the corporate media continue to trash Iran's government and sovereignty. 

Iran’s election cannot be seen in isolation from the broader context of the Middle East - a region where invasion and occupation uprooted an anti-imperialist, independent government in Iraq, where millions live under a deadly U.S.-backed occupation in Palestine and where puppet regimes backed by the United States oppress and exploit hundreds of millions of people. In this context, there is nothing more hypocritical than for the big imperial powers - which for decades have strangled democracies and rigged elections so that ‘their’ pro-Western candidates come out on top - to condemn the Iranian elections. The U.S. should stop interfering in Iran's internal affairs and respect Iran's right to sovereignty and self-determination.