Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Everybody Votes for the Other Guy, But..."

Well, yesterday Iran had their presidential election.

It was pretty impressive seeing the lead-up to it on TV. Tons of people, masses of them turned up in droves to the polls. Lines stretched on forever. Polling places had to extend their hours. There was an energy and anticipation that emanated from the TV screen; I could feel that this election was incredibly important to the Iranians. They really seem highly invested in the concept that the choice of the majority of voters would win.

The election was between the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the internationally renowned kookball who needs no description, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his reformist challenger.

I thought Mousavi was going to win in a landslide. Granted, I knew nothing of the polling, but I again saw the images on TV, and I figured such excitement for an election bodes well for the challenger. Also, I had faith that the Iranian people had caught on that Ahmadinejad is a total kookball.

Well, curiously, Ahmadinejad won! Suprise-surprise! What is even more curious is, not only did he win, but he won with 69% of the vote, even sweeping Mousavi's home district!

Curiouser and curiouser.

I'm trying to imagine John McCain having swept the votes on the south side of Chicago or in Honolulu, delivering a decisive defeat to Barack Obama, even on his home turf.

Curiouser and curiouser, it would have been.

The supreme leader of Iran is not the president. The supreme leader is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the supreme leader was in favor of Ahmadinejad.

Curiouser and curiouser, Mr. Ayatollah.

In Iran, 70% of the vote comes from urban areas, and the urban areas were heavily favored to Mousavi. Yet Ahmadinejad easily won the urban vote.

Curiouser and curiouser, the inverted urban vote.

Not surprisingly, Tehran, the largest urban area of the country, has erupted in riots. Disgruntled voters are taking to the streets, throwing objects, burning tires, displaying banners, and being greeted by police and security forces bearing truncheons. Cell phone networks were shut down. Satellite news channels were scrambled. Mousavi tried to have a news conference, but journalists were not allowed to attend. Riot police clad in body armor beat marchers and passersby, and still, the voters keep on protesting with fury.

I can imagine their anger.

Imagine standing in line to vote--standing in line for hours--for A LOT of hours. Imagine the buzz in the city, the thrilling feeling of transition in the air, which makes the victory of Mousavi seem assured... then Ahmadinejad wins, and wins BIG. It's like being spit on in the face.

I myself feel like joining in the protests. I don't know crap about Mousavi, but I do know what it's like to be incensed by a stolen election. I remember Bush vs. Gore 2000. But that election was contested by only a few thousand votes. Yesterday in Iran, Ahmadinejad miraculously won in a landslide.

You would think that if they were going to rig an election, they would have chosen to be a bit more subtle. They could have staged Ahamadinejad's win as a squeaker, rather than as a routing. His winning buy such a large margin is adding insult to injury. It's so transparent, and such a slap in the face.

But what is even more insulting, what is not so much a slap in the face as a punch in the gut, is that they declared Ahamadinejad the winner before all the votes were even in. And it's not as if there were only 20% of the votes left TO BE counted. No, he was declared the winner with only 20% of the votes COUNTED. For those of you with dyscalculia, Ahmadinejad was said to have won a mandate with 80% of the votes yet to be counted.

They might as well have erected a huge, blinking neon sign over the capitol building that said in Farsi, "UP YOURS. THIS IS FLAGRANTLY RIGGED."

This all reminds me of a young Serbian woman named Natasha.

When I lived in New York City, I worked with her, and we used to talk quite a bit. This was in 1998 and '99, during the Kosovo crisis.

Natasha was a tall, striking woman who had worked as a professional model in Milan. She was no poli-sci major. She had a very home-spun way of talking politics.

Once, when talking of the Serbian siege of Pristina (the capitol city of Kosovo) she said in her thick Serbo-Croat accent, "The common people of Serbia don't care crap about Kosovo. This is all Milosevic. The Serbian people hate Milosevic and don't want this war. I don't know anybody in Serbia who give a shit about Pristina. Who want Pristina? Who want to go there? It's boring. In Pristina there is nothing... no discos, no night life. There is just babushka."

With a quote like that, you may see why I loved talking politics with Natasha.

Another time she made a comment that is actually the inspiration for my writing this piece. This other comment of Natasha's was the very first thing that I thought of when I heard of Ahmadinejad's inexplicable victory...

I asked her why, if Milosevic is so hated by his people, why is he still in power, given that there are elections. She said with a shrug, "Yes, there is elections, and every election, everybody votes for the other guy, but Milosevic always wins."

And that, in my opinion, is what it boils down to with Iran: Everybody voted for the other guy, but Ahamadinejad won.

And today, people in Tehran rage against the machine. I wish them all the best, because they deserve nothing less.

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