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February 21, 2004
Iran Shrugs, Hard-Liners Control 'Parliament'

As expected after the Iranian Guardian Council -- the ruling band of mullahs who make all policy for the original Islamic Republic -- disqualified most of the reformist Parliamentary candidates, hard-liners dominated yesterday's elections. But Iranians, despite being told that voting was a religious requirement, stayed away in droves:

It also would be a significant moral victory for reformers, who urged a boycott after more than 2,400 of their backers were barred from running, and would strengthen their drive for more openness and accountability from the all-powerful theocracy.

It's not hard to understand why participation fell off by over a third. Imagine going to the polls and finding out that you have a choice between George Bush and Jeb Bush for President, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy for Senator, and Howard Dean and Ralph Nader for Governor. Sure, you could cast a vote, but for what purpose? Throw in the fact that none of these positions hold much power except in determining budget priorities -- all legislation has to be approved by the Guardian Council in Iran -- and the demotivation reaches a zenith quite rapidly.

On the other hand, while the boycott certainly had an impact, the fact that they still got 43% to endorse a hard-line ballot in one way or another indicates that the Iranians aren't quite as disenchanted with the conservative mullahs as we might have thought. After all, there are non-Presidential elections in liberal democracies that struggle to reach a 43% participation level, including (shamefully) right here in America. Some Iranians may be playing for time, giving the conservatives just enough rope with which to hang themselves, perhaps literally. If they swing strongly to hard-liner rule, they may touch off an explosion of anger and resentment, especially when you see who they elected:

State radio announced victory for some other leading hard-liners, including Mohammad Reza Faaker, a firebrand cleric who lost his parliament seat in Mashhad in a reformist landslide in 2000, and ultraconservative lawmaker Ali Emami-Rad from southwestern Iran.

Faaker is vehemently anti-American and strongly objected when U.S. wrestlers took part in a tournament in Tehran in 1998. American athletes have since taken part in other events in Iran.

How do you think that sentiment will play with people like these young Republican Guard soldiers?

"I would live in America, no problem," said one 22-year-old, who added that he associated the country with "love and freedom".

Nearby, "Down with USA" was painted on the wall in garish red and yellow hues.

Another guard, also in his 20s, added: "Our government has one view of America but the people have another. Our government tries to show the US as an enemy of our country and of our people. All of the young believe the US is good. Most of the people believe this."

The hard-liners survived and even thrived on early anti-American rage, blaming the "Great Satan" for all of Iran's ills. After 25 years, the Iranians aren't buying that rhetoric any more. Their problems have only increased over the past 25 years, and now that Iranian youth see what America really means, they want to give pluralism and liberal democracy a try. All we need to do is to allow the Iranians to fulfill their own destiny and not interfere by attempting to "normalize" relations with the mullahocracy that holds dictatorial power.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 21, 2004 10:10 AM

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