Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President

Received wisdom tells us in America that it is too hazardous to predict elections in Iran. Said wisdom, often from prominent think tanks and editorial writers, includes refrains denouncing Iran’s elections as badly flawed, mere “staged democracy,” and/or meaningless in terms of policy. (a tendency echoing Israeli foreign ministry talking points.)
I call it laziness mixed with institutional inertia and pre-set agendas. For those able to go beyond stale analysis and look closely, there are major signs suggesting Iran’s hotly contested Presidential race is leaning strongly in favor of Mir-Hussein Musavi. The tea leaves are decidedly green — Musavi’s campaign color. Musavi could win well over 50% on the first round, thus avoiding a run-off.
Here’s my top ten reasons for seeing green:
10. “It’s the foreign policy, stupid.” As I suggested here on May 23rd, current President Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy has been among the top symbolic issues in the contest. All three of his opponents have repeatedly pounded away at how his confrontational style has hurt Iran’s interests, how it has caused Iranian passports to be “worth less than a Somali’s.” Musavi even tied Iran’s economic troubles to foreign policy failings.
Moreover, Iranians by wide margins in recent polling actually prefer better relations with America — and Ahmadinejad has a credibility problem in saying he’s the best candidate to achieve it. By contrast, a common campaign poster for Musavi proclaims, “A New Greeting to the World.” The days of Marg Bar Amrika may be numbered.
9. Ahmadinejad’s return volleys at his primary accusers are back-firing. First, claims that it was “his” foreign policies that restored Iranian pride have infuriated leading system figures, like Hassan Rowhani, who (correctly) emphasize that Iran’s foreign policy decision-making, including on nuclear issues, is a multi-layered process. Condemning key strategies tried during the Khatami era in effect is a slap at Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s populist allegations of corruption of Musavi’s supporters, including “pillars of the revolution” such as former President Hashemi-Rafanjani and his family, produced shock waves in the system that may bite him back. Supreme Leader Khamenei, often presumed to be an Ahmadinejad backer, (a debatable assumption in my view) has strongly rebuked such mud-slinging, and has repeatedly reiterated his neutrality in the race.

Rafsanjani cried foul in a widely re-published poetic letter, accusing Ahmadinejad of “counter-revolutionary” behavior. Khamenei has not commented publicly, yet his silence may also speak volumes. He neither criticized the sensational charges, nor prevented their publication. On election eve, Khamenei received Rafsanjani for a 3 hour private visit. Of note, Rafsanjani also chairs Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which in theory, has supervisory powers over the Leader.

8. Ahmadinejad’s challengers have also made great sport lampooning his charts and graphs of Iran’s supposedly healthy economy. He’s been branded widely as “the liar,” a “delusional fanatic,” the “propagandist” who “squandered the nation’s wealth.” As Musavi put it quite bluntly,

“We are up against a person who says black is white and four times four equals five. He looks into the camera and lies with self-confidence…. There is nothing worse than when a government lies to its own people.” — So much for Iran being a “totalitarian” place that didn’t tolerate criticism of politicians.

While the less affluent rural areas may be swayed by memories of Ahmadinejad’s generous handouts and potato doles when oil revenues were high, inflation is again accelerating and unemployment rising — raising fears across social strata. Even his rural base may be eroding.

7. Women have also played an unprecedented and and even powerful role in this campaign, energized by Musavi’s wife, Zahrah Rahnavard, a politics professor, artist, and former University chancellor. (This will be news to Americans still Reading Lolita in Tehran, but yes Virginia, in the “real” Iran, women do vote, do think, and they’re quite politically aware)

Ahmadinejad’s brazen debate insinuations about Rahnavard’s Ph.D. were widely seen as condescending and insulting. More analogous to Hillary Rodham Clinton than Michelle Obama, Dr. Rahnavard shot back that, “Either [Ahmadinejad] cannot tolerate highly educated women or he’s discouraging women from playing an active role in society.” In Musavi’s wife, Iranian women and activists frustrated by recent set-backs again have hope. As Rahnavard recently put it, “Never have women had so much self-awareness. Women have always been just under the skin of history. Today, we assert ourselves.”
Iranians are also stunned to see the couple campaigning together and even holding hands as they move through crowds. As one amazed Iranian commented to the LA Times, “I’ve never seen a politician who holds his wife’s hand in public. And he holds it with love and respect, not with possessiveness.”

6. The unprecedented sharpness of the nationally televised debates among candidates, and substance packed campaign speeches have stirred tremendous excitement and energy, especially among younger voters. The Musavi camp regularly accused Ahmadinejad of behavior that fosters “dictatorship,” and has campaigned instead for a “civil rights charter” and guarantees for ethnic rights. Iranians nationwide realize that this time, there’s real choices to be made among candidates with sharp differences about real issues that matter profoundly to all Iranians.

Speaking of dictatorships or “sultanistic” behavior, a group of Iranian Interior Ministry employees risked their careers in signing a letter charging that an Ayatollah (presumed to be Mesbah-Yazdi — marja to A/N) had issued a fatwa condoning manipulation of the vote process, to protect the system. While this might seem to be evidence of vote rigging potential, I find it intriguing that the claims have not been denied — and instead we have intense calls for multiple forms of monitoring the integrity of the voting.

5. Evidence: The crowds, the crowds. A “Green Tsunami.”

To be sure, the revolution knows how to bus in the masses for ceremonies, marches, and protests; Ahmadinejad has reportedly tapped into established networks to mobilize crowds. Yet Musavi’s team invoked cutting-edge technologies, from facebook to instant messaging, to twitter, to turn out massive support, draped hair to toe in shades of green.

When they couldn’t get permission to use a large Tehran stadium for one rally, they improvised, and in 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of Tehranis joined a 12 mile long human chain rally along Val-e Asr, Tehran’s central north to south street. As some observers have noticed, Musavi is the unlikely rock star, but he’s got the kids “screaming” anyway; some call it “their revolution.”

Musavi is also likely to reap benefits from huge campaign rallies held in major provincial cities. See these photo rich reports: from Urumiyeh to Mashad to Shiraz to Isfahan. In many of the rallies, former President Mohammad Khatami was the featured reformist star. (And for those still doubting Muavi’s reformist credentials, note that many of his campaign posters feature his mug next to Khatami’s)

4. The US President, Barrack Obama, has wisely avoided comment on the Iranian elections. Four years ago, when George Bush loudly condemned Iran’s electoral process, such comments were widely re-broadcast on Iranian television — and played directly into the hands of hardliners who rallied behind Ahmadinejad.
3. Ahmadinejad’s “helpers in the US Congress” who, at the bidding of AIPAC (the Israeli lobby), had tried to fast-track a punitive sanctions bill through Congress this week, thought better of the strategy. (Kudos to Trita Parsi and the National Iranian American Council for pointing out that such sanctions would again have redounded to Ahmadinejad’s favor)
2. Turn-out is likely to be very heavy — favoring Musavi. I do understand the reasons why many disillusioned reformists, pragmatists, and rank-and-file, sat out the last Presidential elections — and lived to regret that choice. I do take it as a promising development that Iran’s system no longer pressures citizens to vote — to “get their thumb stamped.” Even prominent dissident voices here in the west have been, for the most part, quite pronounced this time in encouraging their Iranian compatriots to vote.
1. Received wisdom about Iran is usually wrong. Having followed Iran matters for so long I’ve gotten used to being contrarian. Ok, some might call it professional “envy.” Still, when I read even esteemed analysts such as Karim Sadjadpour, currently of the Carnegie Endowment, telling us first that Ahmadinejad would likely win (simply because Iranian Presidents had previously always won a second term) and then yesterday telling us that even if Musavi wins, nothing will change (before comparing Musavi to John Kerry!) — then I know a contrarian call is even more likely to be… prescient.
Now, if we learn over the weekend that I’m flat wrong, then I’ll aim to find ten reasons explaining why I was not sufficiently impressed by the wisdom I just criticized. :-} (or why, as Karim, puts it, Iran is more like Florida)

18 thoughts on “Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President”

  1. “Received wisdom in America would have us believe that it is too hazardous to predict elections in Iran. Said wisdom, often from prominent think tanks and major newspapers, includes refrains denouncing Iran’s elections as badly flawed, mere “staged democracy,” and/or meaningless in terms of policy. (which happens to mirror the talking points from the Israeli foreign ministry)”
    I’m sure there’s an element of that to to this. But it’s also partly that elections have thrown up major surprises before, and that polling data in Iran is sparse and persistently inaccurate. The simple fact is that, despite there being a million analysts out there paid to predict this kind of thing, like most things in the future it’s not really possible to accurately forecast an election without solid data (and even then it’s difficult). The decisive “trends” aren’t usually discernible until after the fact, when you have your pick of whcih ones to cite as having been obvious in hindisght, and there’s no way without polling to take the measure of an entire country’s political mood. All you have is selective anecdotal evidence.
    You may well be right on this one, but I doubt anyone has come close to consistently successfully predicting results over a long period of time.
    Similarly, on the point about the President’s lack of influence, it may well serve Israel and neocons to say that he is not the final decision-maker and that Mousavi probably won’t mean a radically different approach to the nculear programme, but it’s also true. On the other hand, what is worth saying in addition to that is that just because Mousavi can’t by himself choose whether or not to seek a resolution to the nuclear programme doesn’t necessarily mean that the regime as a whole won’t, especially given that it takes two to tango – much will depend on how flexible the US is.

  2. Ah, Helena …. have long had a rule that the measure of a man can be judged by the female company he keeps (so far its proved infallible), and Musava’s wife is simply brilliant on all counts. His campaign with her at his side has been electrifying.
    I hope, hope, hope you are right!

  3. Thanks…. I originally started this as just a short listing of top reasons why A/N was likely to lose…. but kept thinking of more and more points for the proposition. (some complex needing clarification) Each time I’d think of a counter point, I’d find more reasons from my notes to beat back the doubts.
    I’ve made a few edits of typos since the original, and added more links to sources for topics referenced. The pictures and videos, in this case, indeed do speak “a million” words. Hope others will chime in with their own observations — and doubts — in the coming hours.

  4. “Received wisdom” is that the US should not care about an Iranian election since the country is not a democracy. So why are all the corrupt talking heads and hired pens suddenly talking about it? What do they care?
    And what will they do when a winner emerges who sees Iranian national interests the same way as his predecessors? Will they still insist on “democracy promotion” and regime change of yet another democratically elected government?
    It could represent quite a quandary for those “democracy promotion” folks intent on subverting regimes the US doesn’t like. As we have seen in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Palestinian territories, democracy is often a real threat to Washington’s hegemony.

  5. Well said John, and I should add that Ahmadinejad indeed does have serious and widespread support. I’m reading early press accounts claiming massive turnout (80-90%) in rural areas — realms assumed to be more prone to support Ahmadinejad. (who, perhaps like a bill clinton, regularly traveled to even the most remote provinces & villages — and was adored for such efforts)
    If such reports prove accurate, (a big if) that conceivably could counterbalance reports of huge voter turnout in urban areas…. (haven’t seen independent #’s as yet)
    The rural factor though is not a given. As Farideh Farhi pointed out early, there’s a series cross-cutting ethnic and regional dimension here, esp. in outlying areas, and Musavi (who hails from Tabriz) and A/N have fought hard over these votes….

  6. Today’s Wall Street Journal report by Farnaz Fassihian caps off an excellent series of valuable dispatches:
    Today we learn more of the campaign managers for Musavi, who apparently melded techniques learned from watching Obama — and also from the fervor for Iran’s original revolution.
    Fassihian also rightly emphasizes how the new technologies and rally styles have helped energize the youth vote — and that too appears to be a huge factor working for Musavi.
    There’s also more insight on Dr. Rahnavard. While she has drawn crowds for her husband when she’s appeared with him, she also frequently campaigns alone.
    About the common references in the US media to her as Iran’s Michelle Obama, I read somewhere else that Rahnavard deftly deflects that by kindly suggesting that Michelle Obama is America’s Zahra Rahnavard.

  7. Iran’s polls just closed local time in Iran — midnight, apparently six hours after the original scheduled closing. Turnout reports are very, very high. (I’ve seen percentages quoted between 70 and even 80%.) The Musavi campaign had complained that many precincts had run out of ballots. Keeping the elections open to this late and unprecedented hour is telling….

  8. I see Obama today did comment on the Iranian elections (as the elections were nearly over)– in a manner not speaking negatively about the system or explicitly in favor of any candidate. (wise) (from WaPost)
    Obama said, “We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran.” He said that after a speech in Cairo last week in which he discussed relations with the Islamic world, “we tried to send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change.”
    Obama continued: “Ultimately, the election is for the Iranians to decide. But just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well, is that you’re seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there has been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.”

  9. I just voted at a US polling station here in California. It was a positive experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in an Iranian democracy.

  10. You’re looking at things from the wrong direction i.e. from the outside. So you are overly fixated on foreign policy, crowds, youth excitement, green, women, etc. And also since most reporting is from the large urban centers you extrapolate the mood there to the entire country.
    Unfortunately you’re wrong – things that you put importance on are not as important or striking to many of rural, etc. voters. I’m inclined to think Ahmedinajad with a strong lead, but having to go to second round. Then probably he wins, unless something changes the dynamic in the week gap.
    If Ahmedinajad loses it will be because of the poor economic conditions if anything ….

  11. I did also mention economic issues as a key issue — and that factor could break either way. (A/N surely tried the populist card too with his allegations of corruption aimed at presumed Musavi allies)
    There indeed is a severe “us” vs. “them” dimension in Iranian politics — quite evident in Iranian reporting from within the country. A/N supporters tend to see him as “one of them.”
    Early returns are startling, showing a 2 to 1 lead for A/N. (at 33% of the vote thus far.) Not specified in what I’ve seen thus far as to just what 33% of the votes have been counted.
    Anybody know if all Iranian polls stayed open until midnight? Or just in urban areas — where lines were longest?

  12. “Iranian Election Commission chief Kamran Danesho held a press conference at 11:45 p.m. local time and announced that with some 20 percent of the votes counted, the president was leading with 3,462,548 votes (69.04 percent), while his main challenger, Mousavi, had 1, 425,678 (28.42 percent). Sources tell STRATFOR that these preliminary numbers pertain to the votes from the smaller towns and villages, where the president has considerable influence, as he has distributed a lot of cash to the poor.”

  13. And of course the elections are not UN supervised in a country where the regime has an iron grip so we have no way of knowing for sure if the count is ridgie didge or bodgie.

  14. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared winner of the tenth presidential election in Iran.
    Presidential election: Disputed Result
    * According to Alef News Agency, Ahmadinejad wins the presidential election in Iran by winning 19 out of 28 million counted votes.
    * Election Headquarters Chief Kamran Daneshjou, commenting the result of the counted first ten million votes, says Ahmadinejad has received 7,027,919 million votes, which is ca. 68.08 percent of the vote, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi only 2,955,131 votes. Rezai comes third with 162,909 votes and Karrubi in fourth with 88,474 votes.
    * IRNA declares Ahmadinejad winner of the tenth presidential election in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    * A few minutes ago, Mousavi declared himself “decisive winner of the tenth presidential election in Iran.”
    * In a public statement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi thanks the Iranian nation for participating in the presidential election, and claims victory despite “irregularities.” Mousavi also urges the nation to celebrate his victory.
    Presidential election: General
    * Former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri votes for the first time in ten years.
    * Former Vice President Mohammad-Ali Abtahi says there has been consultations among Rezai, Mousavi and Karrubi to discuss “matters of concern.”
    Presidential election: Mousavi
    * Former President Mohammad Khatami says “all signs point at a Mousavi victory.”
    * Web sites supporting Mousavi filtered.
    Presidential election: Karrubi
    * Karrubi headquarters chief Mehdi Karrubi, in an open letter, criticizes shortage of voting forms.

  15. ‘there are major signs suggesting Iran’s hotly contested Presidential race is leaning strongly in favor of Mir-Hussein Musavi.’
    it never did, as Ahmadinejad always had the majority onh his side: the poor…Just like Hugo Chavez! Ahmadinejad has won with 65%!!!!!!!!!!!! So what happened to your signs?
    ‘All three of his opponents have repeatedly pounded away at how his confrontational style has hurt Iran’s interests, how it has caused Iranian passports to be “worth less than a Somali’s.” ‘
    What confrontational style? Have u seen his interviews? The confrontation is that of the US and Israel.
    ‘The Musavi camp regularly accused Ahmadinejad of behavior that fosters “dictatorship,” and has campaigned instead for a “civil rights charter” and guarantees for ethnic rights. ‘
    Doesnt this sound like a man getting his speeches from Washington?
    What is Musavi’s relation with the US?
    ‘if Musavi wins, nothing will change (before comparing Musavi to John Kerry!) ‘
    Indeed, and we all remember Kerry!
    Ahmadinejad is the best candidate because hes the one LEAST liked by Tel Aviv and Washinton…and it seems by this site!
    Congratulations president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad!

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