Something Is Happening In Iran?

An Iranian reader writes in with an argument as to why the Green Movement should get out the vote tomorrow:

I’m trying to convince absolutely everyone I know to vote. I know there is a lot of discouragement and people think their vote won’t make any difference, but I think that’s the wrong mentality. First off, every one of the more than 20 million of us who voted for Mousavi in 2009 should be equally committed to voting again, as the reasons why we voted in 2009 remain just as important today: we don’t want our country in the hands of some clown who embarrasses us all, we still hate Khamenei, and we still want Iran to be free. We must think logically and keep trying in every way we can until we have finished what we started. The worst thing we can do is nothing.

Furthermore, if more than 20 million of us vote for a single candidate like [reformist Hassan] Rouhani, there is only one way the regime can win: to cheat ever bigger and dirtier than they did the last time. It’s unlikely that this is even possible as there isn’t as much solidarity in the regime as there was in 2009, nor are they as organized as they were then when the President was one of the candidates. Even Khamenei doesn’t seem like he has the energy or courage to pull off that big of a cheat. He says he’s not for any of the candidates; I think that means he’s afraid to say who he is for, in case they don’t end up winning.

Support may indeed be surging for Rowhani, who now has the backing of the reformists and centrists:

[Rouhani’s campaign] received a boost on Tuesday when Mohammad Reza Aref, Khatami’s senior vice-president, bowed out of the race. Later in the day Rouhani received explicit endorsements from both Khatami and Rafsanjani. Of the popular mood swing that followed, the Tehran journalist said, “I never saw this coming. Everyone was so without hope and talking about not ever voting again, and this morning things have changed 180 degrees. It’s like someone put something in the water last night and this morning people are just different.” According to another source in Tehran, “The atmosphere just completely changed after Khatami and Hashemi put their support behind Rouhani. People are really excited. Wherever Rouhani speaks there’s a frenzy. Today in Mashhad it was like four years ago with the appearance of Mousavi.” [a video of that rally is embedded above]

Looking at the rest of the field, it still seems as though Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf is attracting significant support.  Meanwhile, Thomas Erdbrink notes (NYT) a major difference between 2009 and now:

Wary of the raucous street demonstrations that erupted [four years ago], the government decreed that this year’s presidential campaign would consist of rallies in predetermined spaces and a series of tedious, four-hour debates that many Iranians dismissed as more like a pointless quiz show than a discussion of real issues. “Where are all the leaflets, the posters?” asked Roghaye Heydari, 55, who had come to the capital from her hometown, Dowlatabad, where most people see voting as a national duty. “Why are they not trying to create a proper atmosphere?”

Now, instead of election posters coloring the streets, plainclothes police officers hang around at major crossings, making sure there are no spontaneous gatherings. “I have never seen so much secret police in my life,” a shopper could be overheard telling her friend near the central Haft-e Tir Square on Saturday, nodding at groups of men wearing fashionable clothes that did not suit them.

Iranwire points out how important the rural vote may be:

Hossein, a photographer who travels frequently around the country for work, says that outside Tehran few know Rowhani well at all, and is skpetical of his chances. “[Ghalibaf] has the vote in towns and provincial cities, the villagers will vote for Jalili,” he says.

Voter participation in Iran’s provinces is likely to be high, given the presidential vote being held simultaneously with city council elections, which traditionally draw voters keen to influence local matters. Saeed, a civil servant who has just visited his hometown in northeastern Iran, says turnout will be high in the provinces for the city council vote. He himself says he doesn’t plan to vote. “They have already decided who will be the president,” he says. “I need to make sure we have a friendly mayor, though”. As for Rowhani, he does not have high expectations “Yes, the urban middle class might want him, but he does not have the majority of vote where people have the highest participation rate”.

Zooming out, don’t expect the same kind of foreign media access that we saw in 2009:

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based organisation, said on Wednesday that the Iranian authorities had not issued visas to the vast majority of foreign journalists who requested them. Iranian media were subject to “harassment, restrictions and censorship”. Journalists who have obtained visas have been prevented from moving freely in Tehran, banned from meetings of candidates supported by reformers and from contacting government opponents or the families of political prisoners, RWB added.

Yasmin Alem pushes back on the predictions of many observers that hardliner Saeed Jalili is the favorite to win:

[I]t may well be more that Jalili has been successful in portraying himself as the Supreme Leader’s ideal candidate, rather than Khamenei singling out Jalili. After all, Jalili has fashioned his campaign platform around Khamenei’s preferred topic of “resistance.” … [Also,] traditional and moderate conservatives actually dislike Jalili. Indeed, prominent members of parliament have been openly critical of Jalili, accusing him of inexperience and dogmatism.

She nonetheless cautions:

[D]espite the odds being against him, Jalili could still come out on top. He is unlikely to be able to muster enough votes in the first round, but he might be able to triumph in a run-off (especially if a little election “engineering” takes place). Frontrunner or not, a Jalili victory would have important implications for the course of politics in the Islamic Republic. By propping up Jalili, the Supreme Leader would inevitably alienate traditional conservatives and even some segments of the revolutionary guards who support Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, leaving Khamenei even lonelier at the top. But Jalili winning would also signal that loyalty to the Supreme Leader would trump competence.

Finally, Saeed Kamali Dehghan reminds us that the anticipation of violence, as well as the spectre of of Neda Agha-Soltan, loom large over this week’s vote:

“These days, her image keeps coming back to my mind,” a Tehrani citizen said via online chat on Facebook. “Am I betraying her if I neda-agha-soltanvote? I don’t know, but many of my friends are saying we won’t achieve anything by simply boycotting the election.”

To vote or not to vote for Hassan Rouhani, the sole reformist-backed candidate standing in the race, is the dilemma shared by hundreds of thousands of people who lost faith in the fairness of Iranian polls. For families who lost loved ones in the aftermath of the 2009 election, the buildup to the vote is adding salt to the wounds. At least 100 protesters are believed to have been killed in the protests.