Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Assumptions

I've been a little preoccupied of late, failing to follow in a timely manner the blogs with which I normally keep up. One of them is La Spliffe, or as she has recently referred to herself, Dread Pirate Jessica. Dread Pirate is one smart cookie - smarter than I, I readily admit. Anyone who has read her posts can immediately tell that when it comes to intellectual discourse, one best tread carefully if one wants to go head to head with the Mistress. From her perch on the continent she gets a more broad-based view of the world than do we here in the colonies. I am not infrequently impressed with her take on world affairs both for its rationality and its withering cynicism.

That said, her post on Tuesday, arguing that perhaps Ahmadi did indeed win the election fair and square and that the protests calling the process in Iran a fraud are little more than sour grapes, has left me willing to risk a little intellectual humiliation to argue the opposite. The Dread Pirate said:

The percentage Ahmadinejad's supposed to have got this time - low 60%'s - is about the same as he was supposed to have got in 2005 without raising eyebrows. That was in the second round, true - but his opponent in the second round wasn't a 'reformist', he was another conservative. A reformist candidate came third in 2005, just topping out 17% of the vote. 'Reformers' performed worse in the last election, without everybody screaming foul.


Based on what we know - why would we assume that now, in 2009, it's impossible for Ahmadinejad to get the votes he got in 2005? Why would we assume there has been a 30% + shift in voting patterns that has been fraudulently covered up, just because the educated urbanites who are sick of the dangerous hick - and yeah, he's a dangerous hick - are bravely and efficiently hitting the streets? Why are we assuming so readily that democracy has failed, instead of asking if the demonstrators are just extremely disappointed about the way democracy has gone? Why are so many Americans assuming that just because they managed to vote for the least embarassing candidate for once last year, every other country is going to start doing the same?

Why should we assume, you ask? Apart from the curious election day results displayed on Iranian TV that were brought into question yesterday, apart from the numerous reports (albeit anecdotal) of unsealed ballot boxes and missing ballot boxes and destroyed ballot boxes, apart from the the fact that there were far more ballots printed than there were registered voters, yet ex-pat Iranians overseas went to the polls and discovered a shortage of ballots, apart from Interior Ministry employees sending a letter saying the election was a fraud, apart from the fact that the Ahmadi was declared the winner before the votes were counted. apart from the fact that by law Khameni is not to receive the certification from the election commission until the third day following the election and only then can he approve and announce the winner, yet he did so within 24 hrs, apart from the remarkable election result graph that shows a preposterously straight line rise in the votes counted for Ahmadi, apart from the fact that some members of the military were ordered by commanding officers to turn in the their national ID cards and thus their ability to vote in the days preceeding the election, apart from the fact that balloting is done by writing in a specific code for your chosen candidate and thus the ballots are counted by hand, not machine, yet the winner was announced soon after the polls closed, apart from the official tallies having Ahmadi winning handily in the other candidates hometowns; apart from all that, I guess we shouldn't assume Ahmadi didn't win it fair and square.

But just in case...

Let's take a look at the province of Kermanshah. Populated primarily by ethnic Kurds, the province has been notorious for not voting in elections as a means of protesting their 2nd class status. Those that do vote rarely do so for the regime, preferring instead to cast their ballots for anything resembling reform. In 2005, with roughly a 35% total turnout, Ahmadi lost the province in the first election. In fact, in that first round of voting he came in 5th out of seven candidates with just 9.8% of the vote. The most liberal candidate, Karroubi, won the province with 35%, 16 points more than his nearest competitor. The three reformist candidates collectively received more than half the vote, and if you include Rafsanjani (who, though listed as conservative, was much closer to a reformer) it jumps to more than 70% of the vote. Yet, in 2009 Kermanshah showed a huge uptick in turnout and Ahmadi took 59% of the vote! Of course, it's certainly possible that the Kurds suddenly found Ahmadi to be the candidate of their dreams - it could happen, I suppose. And, I suppose, John McCain could have won San Francisco in a landslide, as well.

And then there's this curious statistic: In 2005, in the first round of balloting, all three conservative candidates received a collective total from the entire country of only 41% of the vote. Yet in 2009, Ahmadi amassed a total of 63%. Where did all those votes come from?

Mistress, you seem to concede that Ahmadi was less popular in urban areas than in rural ones; that his constituency was not based in the cities in this election. The interesting aspect of this is that Ahmadi got most of his votes in 2005 from urban areas - he won because city-dwellers voted for him. If that's the case, and if he lost a substantial number of those voters this time around to Mousavi, how did he manage to increase his totals when rural voters only comprise 32% of the electorate? If the official tallies are to be believed he gained a good number of those voters at the expense of Karroubi, the most liberal of all the candidates. How a does a conservative candidate siphon votes from the most liberal?

Though I'm no expert in statistical analysis, those that are find this election more than a little suspect. Dr. Walter Mebane, a University of Michigan political science and statistics professor who specializes in statistical tools "for detecting anomalies and diagnosing fraud in election results," says, after looking at the data, he sees "moderately strong support for a diagnosis that the 2009 election was afflicted by significant fraud." Certainly no smoking gun, but there are some real statistical anomalies present.

You ask why we should assume that there could be a shift towards reform. Perhaps it is a generational shift. Young voters - and Iran is a young country having experienced an enormous baby boom between 83 and 86 as a result of the Iran/Iraq war - are just attaining their majority. They have the vote now. They have contact with the west (this is not North Korea, after all). Those young people suffer an unemployment rate of 40%. They want what all young people want - a voice in their future. And without sounding utterly pedestrian, they want peace.

When the U.S. elected Obama the door was opened. With the Bush/Cheney party going on saber rattling was the rule of the day. Iran was threatened, literally. Any external threat tends to entrench conservative attitudes (witness the U.S. immediately post-9/11). Ahmadi rattled back and succeeded in winning in 2005 because the population of Iran was rightly frightened. Obama changed the game. He offered during his campaign to change the tone. He is in many ways the Americans' peace offering - a way of saying we are going to change our way of doing business. With an offer like that on the table, maybe - just maybe - Iran and other countries are willing to do the same. Even after the Shah, and the CIA, and the hostages, perhaps the Iranian people want it enough as well.

The desire for reform in Iran, for a move away from the strict theocracy they have lived under for the last thirty years, seems to be genuine, if the street scenes we have witnessed the last week are any evidence. The chance to make a change seems too great for them to pass up. Make no mistake, Mousavi is a shrewd political animal. He has been around for a long time and is no fool, but I believe he is less in control of this now than we think. He is merely a vehicle for the Iranians to step forward and demand the change they desire.

Ahmadi may have honestly won. The entire thing may have been on the up and up. We may be in the process of being stupendously duped by a bunch of sore losers. You ask why we would assume otherwise. I do not assume, but I question what I have been told when common sense suggests otherwise - when the story gets fishier and fishier the more it's told. When the people who have the most to lose from reform are also the people that are charged with determining irregularities in the election - when those people use truncheons and threats to put a stop to legitimate questions from their own population - I get very suspicious, indeed.

The Guardian Council of Iran, currently charged with looking into problems with the election, determined yesterday they will not recount the votes in that curious Kurdish province of Kermanshah, because "there has been no irregularity."

So, what, if anything, should we assume from that?

No comments: