Choice between the Lesser of Two Evils -
By: Mehrangiz Kar ,Ahuman rights advocate and a well known women rights activist.
It is widely thought that Iranians have accepted - at least in the political realm - that their choices in the forthcoming parliamentary elections on March 14, 2008 are limited to picking between the lesser of two evils. However, Iranian people are not satisfied with this limited choice, and their silence should not be interpreted as a sign of their approval.
In the years following the victory of the Islamic Revolution (1979), two types of ideologies have been active with respect to elections. One approves of people’s participation in the controlled elections, while the other resists people’s participation in these elections. The issue of boycotting elections has become a controversial one in recent years, with heated discussions between opponents and proponents of a massive boycott.
A considerable size of eligible voters has consistently boycotted elections in the Islamic Republic. However, the discussion over boycotts did not become public until the reform movement began. On Friday, 2 Khordad of 1376 [the day of the 1997 presidential elections], a huge majority of eligible Iranian voters undermined the boycott supporters and unexpectedly cast their votes to reformist Mohammad Khatami. It was a great victory for him, still more than 14 million eligible Iranians refused to vote onthat day!
Immediately after taking office, Khatami realized the limitations facing him, particularly when forming his cabinet. On the other hand, powerful conservative forces were frightened by the prospect of mass public participation. Planning to halt national reforms began and conservatives united in their opposition to the reform platform. They claimed that reforms were a ploy to overthrow the regime through “legal mechanisms.” All those who were interrogated as reformists know well how fearful intelligence officers were of the reform movement, thinking that the movement is preparing for a soft, gradual overthrow of the Islamic Republic. But no matter how much they tried, they were not able to find a connection between this amazing phenomenon and foreign intelligence services.
Finally, the systematic suppression of reforms and the weakness of reformists themselves led to the defeat of the reform movement. Some reformists blamed their conservative opponents in the government for the failure of reforms, as if opponents of reforms were the ones to advance the reformist agenda! Things got so bad that some decided never to participate in elections. People were not able to achieve anything with their massive participation in the 1997 elections. As a result, they distanced themselves from their government more then before and focused on their personal lives. They still have not reduced this distance under the backbreaking pressure of inflation, stress, and unemployment.
Now, the mismanagement of the Ahmadinejad Administration has given reformists new hope to participate in a new election game, even if they face danger of losing. On the other hand, the mismanagement of Ahmadinejad Administration has frightened the right-wingers and enticed them to look for solutions. Both sides, the one who knows it will lose, and the other who knows it can achieve majority in the Majlis with the help of Guardian Council’s disqualifications, have entered the game knowing the outcome.
People, however, are convinced that their choice is between the lesser of two evils. The problem is that they do not know which one is bad and which is worse. They only know that the current administration has made things worse than they were.
With the Guardian Council and the election law, no one hopes for free elections. Furthermore, people do not know how to distinguish the bad from worse.
In a situation where people do not know how candidates for the Majlis will put an end to the shortcomings, many of them will participate in the election with the mentality that their vote can at least help things not get worse than they are now. This kind of participation, which many embark on unwillingly, is, of course, not a serious and active participation. Also, one must not forget that obtaining the stamp on their birth certificates is another enticement for many voters. The birth certificates that have been stamped, of course, cannot change the country’s political landscape – but they have other advantages for the voters.