I’m always entertained by the oceans of ink that get poured out over Iranian “elections.” As if there were such things. Iran doesn’t have elections, it stages circuses. It’s a variation on a famous Cold War theme about the ways a tyranny attempts to trick the people, and how the people, who aren’t fooled at all, respond with tricks of their own. Workers in the Socialist bloc used to say, “They pretend to pay, and we pretend to work.” In Iran, the regime pretends to hold elections, and the people try to find the best way to demonstrate their contempt for the regime. Sometimes they do it by staying away from the “voting booths.” Sometimes, as in the last presidential elections (you remember 2009, right?), they turn out in big numbers to elect someone who is clearly the antithesis of the theocratic dictator and somehow got on the ballot. But everybody knows that the actual vote tally is a joke; like the official numbers for the Chinese economy, the “vote count” is invented in the supreme leader’s chambers.
The mid-June circus will play out in three rings. First, the selection of the candidates, then voting day, and finally the announcement of the winner. In each ring, you may be tempted to watch the acrobats (candidates), but the real action is in the dark rooms of the leader.
Selection of the candidates: Hundreds of people have proposed to run for president, including a few women (talk about spitting into the wind!). These names go through three filters. First, they are vetted by the intelligence services, both the Intel Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ intel and counterintel gangs. Then the surviving names pass on to the Guardian Council, which narrows the list to the required number (usually quite small, 4-6). And then Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gets to put his chop on the list.
This is the “real election.” And the candidates are currently vying for the favors of the leader. Take Mayor Qalibaf of Tehran, for example, a very nasty piece of work who did his pilot training in North Korea. He’s now bragging about his thuggery, how he personally smashed students and other demonstrators in the streets, etc. etc. Those “credentials” will help him get on the short list, but past favors to the leader and the Guards will count even more. They know who and what he is, after all. Still, the real election is really real, there is an intense war of all against all in Iran today, and, to put it mildly, there is a lot at stake. The president runs the government, and the government dispenses a lot of money and the power associated with the money. So deals are being made, and since Iran is a society in which nobody trusts anybody who is not an immediate family member (and even then…), it’s not so easy for the powerful and the power brokers to sort it all out. Already the Guardian Council has extended its deadline for candidate selection by several days.
Election Day: In the center ring, this is the big show. The leader wants to be able to tell the world that the regime has huge popular support, even though everybody knows it would be overwhelmingly voted out in any honest election, as it was in 2009. So lots of citizens will be ordered to the voting booths, and lots of Basijis and Revolutionary Guards will be bussed all over the place–Potemkin-style–casting ballots early and often. Some will get paid for their work, others will get fed. Foreign journalists will be instructed to report a monster turnout and great popular enthusiasm. The stories, save for the name of the new president, could be written today.
The Winner: The “count” will be announced in the evening. Usually there’s a clear winner (the “rules” provide for a runoff between the top two if nobody gets a majority), and it would be surprising if there were a second round, because that would provide a legitimate excuse for large numbers of people to assemble in the streets. The regime does not want that. They remember 2009. Hundreds of thousands of citizens demanded that Mir Hossein Mousavi be certified as the winner. Today he’s locked away under a form of house arrest/internal exile.
Don’t pay attention to the circus. Keep your eye on the ball. This is a hollow regime, it’s riven beyond description, and even its foreign legion, Hezbollah, is very unhappy about fighting and dying for Sunni Arabs in Syria. Secretary Kerry, with his extraordinary ability to miss the main issues, actually went to the Senate and asked the world’s greatest deliberative body to hold off on tougher sanctions through the “election” period. He’s got it backasswards. After all, he’s now in charge of leading with our national behind.