Monday, 22 June 2009


Last night I was reading a bit of the book I'm reading at the moment,  Cosmo Cosmolino by Helen Garner.  It's set in Melbourne.  Halfway through the scene I was reading,  one of the characters says to another,  "By the way – do you realise that this is the longest night of the year?"

And she was right.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


They did it again.

Yesterday should have been a good one for the Iranian government - brutal and effective suppression of small,  disorganised protests,  near-silence from Mousavi,  opposition in disarray.

Unfortunately the day was marred by yet another own goal.  They faked a suicide bombing.  They faked a suicide bombing.  They justified all those American accusations of being a terrorist state by actually attempting to terrorise their own people into staying away from the protests.  And once again,  they did it in a really stupid,  blatant way.  First there was again the all-too-obvious foreshadowing in ominous remarks from on high - this time in Khamenei's address the previous day:  "Street demonstrations are a target for terrorist plots.  Who would be responsible if something happened?".  Then the suspicious choice of location - the tomb of Khomeini,  a long way from the protests  (perhaps so that the fraud would escape scrutiny,  perhaps so the state media could avoid showing images of the demonstrators)  and all-too-obviously symbolic:  Khomeini represents the Islamic Republic,  the established order.  Thereby associating the protesters with suicide-bombing terrorists.  And then they gave it coverage on the state media all day and night.  Just to make sure everyone heard about it.

Honestly people.  You're under attack for faking an election.  You're not going to fix that by faking a suicide bombing!!

They might still get away with it - something like this could be a button-pusher for the government's conservative supporters,  and the regime will certainly try to use it to justify greater brutality in future.  Much depends on how many people are prepared to believe that it was for real.  If they see through it - as I think they will - well,  even if the Assembly of Experts doesn't care about the protests,  they might still have to remove Khamenei for gross incompetence.  The man can't even do a reign of terror properly.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The point of no return?

I'm beginning to think that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, may have been personally responsible for the various silly decisions mentioned in my previous post. His address to the nation today - his first since the election - also demonstrates some pretty questionable thinking. He tells the opposition that they must pursue their complaints within the established legal channels, but also effectively tells them that doing so will be completely pointless, by stating that Ahmadinejad's victory is beyond question. As if that wasn't stupid enough, he reiterated his own personal support of Ahmadinejad. In other words, "the candidate I wanted to win has won. Because the margin of victory was too large for any cheating. Any complaints must be made to the official bodies, who will ignore them." Well that'll certainly restore everyone's faith in Iranian democracy.

With that speech, it looks like the Supreme Leader has effectively brought an end to the constitutional status quo in Iran. Up until now, the Iranian constitution contained an essential contradiction: an unelected head of state with a huge amount of power, but an elected head of government. They'd more or less kept it together pretty well before now, but conflict - between the elected and the unelected, the democratic and the non-democratic - was perhaps ultimately inevitable. It's certainly reached crisis point now. Regardless of the actual election result, it's clear that a very large number of Iranians have lost confidence in the Supreme Leader's willingness to accept their democratic decisions. Unless Khamenei can go back on what he's just said, Iran must now become either less democratic or more democratic: the former if the opposition backs down and the Supreme Leader gets the President he wants; the latter if the Supreme Leader is forced to accept new elections or is forced from office, either directly by a popular uprising or by the Assembly of Experts acting in response to the protests. It'll probably all come down to the resolve of the Iranians who support Mousavi. How far are they willing to go?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

If I were an evil overlord

The really surprising thing about the Iranian presidential election is not that the result was manipulated,  but that it was manipulated so ineptly.

The past few presidential elections in Iran were generally regarded to have been more or less fair,  and this time it seems that the regime was  (mistakenly,  as it turned out)  relying on the weakness of the other candidates  (selected as always by the regime itself)  to get Ahmadinejad over the line.  So perhaps we can put the regime's ham-fisted effort down to inexperience and lack of planning.  But you would think that it would be fairly obvious that you should make the announcement of the results follow the pattern established by previous elections.  It should at least look and feel as much as possible like it did on previous occasions,  yes?

Well,  the Iranian Interior Ministry apparently didn't feel the need.  In previous elections,  the results would begin trickling through slowly hours after voting finished;  this time the authorities were able to announce that more than a third of the votes had been counted within just one hour of polls closing,  showing a commanding lead for Ahmadinejad.  They allowed that lead to shrink a little in subsequent announcements  (as the rest of the votes were  "counted")  but they still ended up giving him 62.63%,  compared with 33.75% for Mousavi.  With voter turnout acknowledged even by the Interior Ministry to have been at a record high,  nearly all observers had expected that those figures would be approximately the other way around.  Instead,  the figures announced give Ahmadinejad a much greater margin of victory than he received in 2005,  when he was still relatively popular.

Surely a smaller margin of victory would have been more plausible??  Such as, say, 52.7% for Ahmadinejad?  Sure,  it would still have looked fraudulent,  but not blatantly, contemptuously and unbelievably so.  Many would have been willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  But 62.63?  That really leaves no room for doubt at all.  Incredibly,  they didn't even allow Mousavi to get a majority in his own home town  -  the announced result seems to have been a more or less even 60+%  for the incumbent right across the country.

Why would the Interior Ministry do something so daft?  Their misguided idea seems to have been to give Ahmadinejad such a huge margin that accusations of  "irregularities"  would seem pointless.  The Ministry made a statement to that effect in their announcement of the official results,  and it was echoed by Ahmadinejad himself the following day:  "The margin between my votes and the others is too much and no one can question it."  Um,  no.  The margin is so large that EVERYONE is going to question it.  Sigh.  These people have so much to learn.

I could also mention all the ominous and all-too-obvious comments made by authority figures in the leadup to voting about how any attempts at  "revolution"  would be  "firmly dealt with";  even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,  when casting his vote,  pointedly warned that  "nobody should think about trying to harm the state"  (or something to that effect).  But perhaps the single silliest thing the regime did was their apparent failure to announce any figure for spoiled ballots  -  it's as if they simply forgot about them completely.

The result of all this,  of course,  is that the legitimacy of the whole regime in Iran has been called into question as never before.  Even the authority of the Supreme Leader has been shaken  -  the rioting crowds are chanting slogans criticising him, which seems to be just about as radical as it ever gets in Iran.  The regime will probably survive this storm  -  the security forces appear to remain largely loyal  -  but this own goal is going to make things a lot tougher for them from now on.