Filed under: Iran
Laura Secor has spent a lot of time reporting in Iran. She also spent a lot of time reporting in Serbia, back in the ’90s, so she knows from stolen elections. And if she writes that the elections in Iran were clearly stolen, I’m inclined to believe that’s the case.
This presents Western governments with something of a dilemma. It’s a fairly aggressive move to declare openly that one does not accept the legitimacy of election results in another country, because this implies that one does not accept the legitimacy of the government. The US is in the process of forging a diplomatic opening to Iran, and that entails precisely accepting the legitimacy of the Iranian government, which is in fact the government the US will have to work with for the foreseeable future, stolen election or no. At the same time, passive acceptance of election-stealing reduces the external pressure on regimes that are in the process of shifting from autocracy to democracy, and are wondering whether or not they’ll be able to get away with a little ballot-stuffing. My sense is that it was the accumulation of such external and internal pressure in Serbia that rendered it impossible, by 1999, for Milosevic to brazenly steal an election.
The US doesn’t have to do much in the way of protesting the illegitimacy of election results in China and Vietnam, because everyone, everywhere in the world, knows such elections are conducted entirely within the purview of Communist Party control. But in Iran, this assumption is not universally held. If Secor is right, and Ahmadinejad’s 67% vote tally throughout the country is a pure fabrication, it’s important that this point be established internationally, and that’s not the kind of thing the press or NGOs can do very effectively. It probably needs to come from governments. But the US is in no position to be rendering such judgments at the moment, certainly not in the Muslim world. In another context, it might be helpful for a country like Norway, Sweden or Denmark, with impeccable democratic credentials and few geopolitical interests, to come out and say that the Iranian vote seems to have been faked. But as we saw when the Danish newspaper cartoons blew up in 2007, even the Scandinavians lack the moral authority and disinterested image to make these claims in the Muslim world these days. Perhaps the best that can be hoped is that international human rights organizations will come out swinging on the stolen Iranian elections, and that, as the Obama administration cleans up the US’s human rights act, this will gradually help shift the burden of international opinion against Iran, until at some point, apparently still years in the future, that pressure forces some accommodations on Iranian leadership. In countries like Vietnam, autocratic and stable, we measure the timeline of change in decades. Perhaps that’s still the case for Iran as well.
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