As I write this blog on June 17, the streets of Iran’s capital are jammed with demonstrators rallying to protest the country’s disputed presidential vote. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians defied the country’s religious leaders who have the final say on state matters demanding a new election replacing the election of June 12 tainted by charges of fraud and vote rigging.
The Ayatollahs of Iran have offered a limited recount, another concession to the sustained public rage, but reformist politicians would accept only a completely new election under the closest supervision. Public opinion in Iran may force such a solution despite the virtual dictatorial powers of the unelected religious leaders. The sheer size of the demonstrations has been impressive and the protests are not limited to students but include all generations and economic classes.
The United States of America had a similar crisis in the presidential election of 2000 when Florida’s decisive 25 electoral votes would decide the contest. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, filed suit in state court to begin a recount of ballots in several counties where voting machines were unable to determine the voter’s selection. The Florida Supreme Court granted Gore’s plea but the U.S. Supreme Court prevented the recount 36 days after the election and with that, Gore’s chance of winning the presidency.
The Ayatollahs of Washington had decided and there was no appeal. Nor was there much of a protest. Hundreds of lawyers were involved in legal proceedings, thousands of media personnel carried the news reports around the world, but the American citizens remained remarkably calm. No marches in the cities, little anger on the campuses. The people were not involved despite the flouting of the Constitution, despite the closeness of the 5-4 decision, despite the pyramid of voting irregularities in Florida.
With all due respect to the government of Iran, the importance of their president does not compare with that of the U. S. president, controller of the arsenal of nuclear weapons, leader of a $14 trillion economy, commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world, controller of 737 military bases in 130 countries, whose word reverberates everywhere, almost the Emperor of the world.
The U.S. is the oldest democracy; proud of its inheritance, seeking to spread its values to other countries, but in 2000 it was passive. Iran, with a history embracing thousands of years, is a theocracy with a limited tradition of democratic elections mostly at the local level. Faced with the overwhelming power of the Ayatollahs and their control of the military and police, the citizens of Iran refused to accept this particular aspect of religions dictatorship. Whether or not they achieve their objectives, the Iranian people have shown how to overcome a government that has over reached and abused its power. Committed but pragmatic, insistent yet Gandhi-like in its tactics, they set an example of the use of people power.