The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, Vol. 5, No. 3/4 (Summer/Fall 2009)

The pink revolution in Iran and the “Left”, Takis Fotopoulos

Chapter 3. The 2009 elections


The two sides in the June 2009 elections

The conflict between revolution fundamentalists and reformers was expressed as follows in the June 2009 presidential elections:

On the one side, Ahmadinejad was expressing the revolution fundamentalists, i.e. the original anti-imperialist and anti-Western ideals of the Islamic revolution, which became even more topical in the last few years with the essential encirclement of Iran by Iraq and Afghanistan (where large numbers of Western troops are based for an indefinite time), as well as Pakistan and Turkey ―all client regimes of the transnational elite at present. Furthermore, the collapse of the former Soviet Union has led to the creation of new central Asian states on the borders with Iran that are also, in various degrees, client regimes of the transnational elite. So, Iran faces, also, a string of American bases with potential or actual nuclear stockpiles in Qatar, Uzbekistan etc. No wonder that the Iranian regime and its supporters believe that the West intends to eliminate it and that therefore the only way to avoid regime change is by having a nuclear capability. Unsurprisingly, even reformists have to pay lip service to the need for nuclear energy, although both Mousavi and Rafsanjani have expressed their willingness to find a negotiated solution with the transnational elite and Mousavi, in his first press conference since the start of Iranian New Year in March 2009, has said that ”if elected, his policy would be to work to provide "guarantees" that Tehran's nuclear activities would never divert to non-peaceful aims”. Despite therefore his rhetoric that he will never halt enrichment, he made it clear that a reformist administration will never use the enriched uranium for making nuclear weapons. But, this is an effective surrender of Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons in the face not only of Zionist Israel, their greatest enemy, having already built a significant nuclear arsenal, but also of the client regimes of Pakistan and India in their area, not to mention USA, Russia and China! No wonder that Ahmadinejad’s condemnation of US policy and Israeli hegemony in Lebanon, Egypt, North Africa and Pakistan, as well as his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, has gained him much sympathy among ordinary Arabs and (indirectly) among ordinary Iranians. It is only the bourgeois reformers (including the reformist Left) who want regime change –I am not referring here to the marginal communist and leftist groups which usually are fully confused, if they do not play a suspicious role like the Iraqi communists, who welcomed the American invaders!

On the other side, there were the reformers, with “the super-rich Rafsanjani, his family and his supporters in the reformist Kargozaran Party, making no bones about helping to finance and direct Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign to topple Ahmadinejad”.[1] The reformers were promoting the demand for more political and social “openness”, i.e. more secularization of culture, more equality between sexes, disbanding the so-called morality police force etc. This was an obvious attempt to shift the focus of discussion away from two crucial issues on which the fundamentalists had a clear advantage: the question of liberalisation of the economy and the question of Iran’s political independence. On the former, although both fundamentalists and reformers accepted the goal of liberalisation of the economy and, as late as 2006, Khamenei decreed a renewed effort to privatise the economy, Ahmadinejad had attempted throughout his presidency (through administrative controls of the markets and subsidies) to improve the lot of lower social groups, i.e. to redistribute income from the rich to the poor. On the latter, Ahmadinejad, unlike the reformists, had consistently shown adherence to the original anti-Western ideals of the Islamic revolution.

Of course, neither the fundamentalists nor the reformers ever managed to break the heavy economic dependence of Iran on oil and gas revenue, The economy of Iran is still dominated by oil and gas exports, which constituted 50-70% of government revenue and 80% of export earnings as of 2008. This, combined with the fact that agricultural production has been steadily falling since the 1960s, in a traditional rural society like Iran, implied that by the late 1990s Iran had become a major food importer, while economic hardship in the countryside had increased massively the migration of people to the cities.

In other words, the Islamic regime aimed only at achieving political independence from the transnational elite but not economic independence as well, which however, is the basis of any long-term genuine independence. In fact, the present development strategy of Iran, as expressed by the latest Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2005-10), is the one suggested by the transnational elite, i.e. a model of export-led growth! This is presumably what the new generation of technocrats who studied at Western universities and returned home suggest (most of them supporters of reformists). However, despite the fact that both revolution fundamentalists and reformers use the same economic strategy, the very fact that reformers leave the distribution of income to the market forces, whereas fundamentalists, both in theory and in practice, aim at improving the distribution of income in favour of the poor, played a crucial role in the electoral outcome. This is not new, because exactly the same happened in the 2005 presidential elections, as Mark Gasiorowski,[2] a professor of political science and director of international studies at Louisiana State University pointed out:

The landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the second round of Iran's presidential elections was largely a response to the populist campaign he had waged. His campaign emphasised the large gap between rich and poor in the country, the rampant corruption that exists there, and his own humble lifestyle. His victory was a rejection of the preceding era, under Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, when this poverty gap grew wide.

This, combined with a genuine policy of political independence, again expressed both in theoretical and practical terms during the presidency of Ahmadinejad, could well explain his victory in 2009, which was widely predicted, even as arly as 2006. As Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University said at the time:[3] "He's more popular now than a year ago. He's on the rise…I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now." The same trend was confirmed very recently, with fundamentalists winning 70% of the seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections, an event which disturbed the transnational elite which began to realise that sanctions were not enough to make Iranians toe its line.[4] It is also interesting to know that the very reasons for which the fundamentalist government was so popular were anathema to reformists, as it became clear in a report by 50 prominent economists who accused the president of recklessly deterring foreign investment, running a state-dominated, over-centralised economy, and causing a national brain drain. "The government is mismanaging the economy and wasting oil revenues. It's worse than under the Shah," said Mohammad Atrianfar, the founder of Shargh, a leading pro-reform newspaper and political ally of Mr Ahmadinejad's main rival, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani”.[5] And the reason for this waste? According to Atrianfar again: “oil revenue was being squandered through state handouts to impoverished provinces and commodity subsidies”![6] However, it was exactly these “handouts” which gave victory to Ahmadinejad, as a report a few months before the elections concluded:

“although all this looks like a Farsi version of ‘it's the economy stupid’, Ahmadinejad's troubles may not be terminal. He is popular in the countryside and small towns for the projects and cheap loans he has funded with oil money, just as he promised. What plays badly in affluent north Tehran is applauded in rural Baluchistan, where his views on Jews or ‘global arrogance’ are no more than plain speaking from a man who sounds like ‘one of us’”.[7]

The ‘unholy alliance’ of reformers and bourgeois modernizers

It is clear that since the recent elections an “unholy alliance” emerged consisting of Islamist reformers on the one hand and bourgeois modernizers who benefited from the Rafsanjani/Khatami neoliberal reforms[8] (i.e. the privatizations, the liberalization of foreign trade, etc.) on the other. This alliance, which played a leading role in the recent demonstrations, was, as the above analysis shows, an alliance against the majority of Iranians: i.e. those who are already paying for these reforms in terms of mass unemployment (or–as in the case of workers in the petro-chemical industries– would have to pay these reforms in the future if Mousavi was elected) and also of those who have benefited from Ahmadinejad’s presidency because of the increases in salaries and pensions introduced by his administration.

The fact that this unholy alliance is only a minority becomes obvious not only by the events mentioned above but also by a series of supporting facts, like the ones mentioned below, which indicate the reformist claim that their election victory was “stolen” by the fundamentalists is just a myth, which has been reproduced worldwide not only by the huge propaganda machine of the transnational elite but also by the fellow travellers of the reformist Left. This is how Seumas Milne[9], one of the most serious Guardian analysts described the propaganda reproduced by Western media :

the Western media cameras focus so lovingly on Tehran’s gilded youth for whom Ahmadinejad is nothing but a Holocaust-denying fanatic. The other Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the country’s independence, expose elite corruption on TV and use Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority, is largely invisible abroad. While Mousavi promised market reforms and privatisation, more personal freedom and better relations with the West, the president increased pensions and public sector wages and handed out cheap loans. It’s hardly surprising that Ahmadinejad should have a solid base among the working class, the religious, small town and rural poor – or that he might have achieved a similar majority to that of his first election in 2005.

The supporting facts which cast a serious doubt –to say the least–on the myth of the stolen election include the following ones:

[1]. the lack of any serious hard and concrete evidence pointing to a huge electoral fraud, which is required to account for the 11 million-vote gap between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi—this, of course, does not exclude the possibility of significant irregularities that could have taken place, (surely not for the first time in Iran!), that were not however of sufficient size to change the result;

[2]. the disputing of the present result is just based on speculation about the high turnout, some surprising regional results, the speed of the official announcement, (clearly triggered however by Mousavi’s declaration that he was the winner before the polls closed!). Yet, as Milne points out, most official figures don’t look so implausible – Mousavi won Tehran, for instance, by 2.2m votes to 1.8m

[3]. the fact that Ahmadinejad’s victory was predicted by one of the few genuinely independent polls carried out during the campaign by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, who reported in the Washington Post.[10] As the authors concluded: "Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin - greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election."

[4]. the analysis of regional voting patterns by James Petras[11] shows, as one could expect, significant class differentiations, with middle-class voters voting heavily for the reformist candidates and vice versa for rural and working class voters who voted for Ahmadinejad on account of his redistributive policies. The same conclusion was drawn by the above mentioned poll, which also showed how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than ‘generational life style’. According to the same poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds “comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups.”[12] The only group, which consistently favoured Mousavi, was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The ‘youth vote’, which the Western media praised as ‘pro-reformist’, was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media.

[5]. the only supposedly serious evidence supporting the fraud hypothesis is a study by Chatham House and an academic study. How unbiased were these studies becomes obvious if we examine further the authors of them. Chatham House is a London-based think tank financed by donations from large corporations, governments of the transnational elite and other organisations, expressing systemic views, and which, on at least one occasion, have been found to be a straight manipulation of data to justify preconceived positions![13] As far as the academic study is concerned, it was carried out by a recently created “Institute on Iranian studies” at St. Andrews university in Scotland and opened in 2006 by Khatami, (one of the arch-reformers we saw above, who is “admired in the west for his attempts to liberalise Iran's theocracy during his eight-year presidency”[14]). The report is co-signed by an expatriate Iranian academic, who is well known to Guardian readers for his articles on Iran that are clearly biased against the regime and in favour of the reformers and bourgeois modernizers![15] The report itself is full of suppositional evidence about the increased turnout breakdown of the votes and hardly of any concrete evidence, let alone conclusive evidence, as the authors of the study themselves admit when they write that “the breakdown of the votes is not a smoking gun”.[16] Yet, this “non-smoking gun” was widely used by the world media and Znet (see below) as a kind of proof of the rigging of the elections!


[ Jump to the next Chapter: The aims of the transnational elite ]



[1] Simon Tisdall, “Duel between shark and supreme leader may decide who is the country’s kingmaker,” The Guardian (16/6/2009).

[2] Mark Gasiorowski, “The real power in Tehran,” The Guardian (29/6/2005).

[3] Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall, “A year on, Ahmadinejad's popularity is soaring,” The Guardian (21/6/2006).

[4] Julian Borger, “Conservative wins in Iran poll show sanctions are failing, say analysts,” The Guardian (22/3/2008).

[5] Simon Tisdall, “Ahmadinejad's rivals jockeying for position,” The Guardian (22/6/2006).

[6] Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall, “A year on, Ahmadinejad's popularity is soaring.

[7] Ian Black, “Rural support could win Ahmadinejad second term, despite his many critics,” The Guardian (20/11/2008).

[8] Ramine Motamed-Nejad, “Iran: money and the mullahs,” Le Monde Diplomatique (English edition) (June 2009).

[9] Seumas Milne, “These are the birth pangs of Obama’s new regional order.”

[10] Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people,” Washington Post (15/6/2009).

[11] James Petras,Iranian Elections: The ‘Stolen Elections’ Hoax, Information Clearing House" (19/6/ 2009)

[12] Washington Post (15/6/2009).

[13] See e.g. S. Tesfamariam, “Scholarly or Sophistry? A take on Chatham house’s «Ethiopia and Eritrea: Allergic to Persuasion», American Chronicle (6/2/2007).

[14] Robert Tait, “Khatami's UK visit to bring tirade from Iran,” The Guardian (5/10/2006).

[15] See for a typical example, Ali Ansari, “Only the US hawks can save the Iranian president now,” The Guardian (30/1/2007).

[16] Ali Ansari & Thomas Rintoul, “Magic numbers,” The Guardian (22/6/2009).