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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory- and how the west got it hopelessly wrong.

Oh dear. How very embarrassing. For the last few days we have heard ad nauseum from western reporters and foreign policy ‘experts’ telling us that the Iranian elections were ‘too close to call’ and that there was a real chance of the man the west wanted to win -Mousavi- triumphing.

And what was the result of the election that was ‘too close to call’?

A landslide victory for President Ahmadinejad.

How did the western reporters get it so wrong? Well, wishful thinking undoubtedly played a part.

But I think the main reason is that they spent too much time chatting to English-speaking well-heeled middle-class types in the posh suburbs of Tehran and not enough time to ordinary working-class Iranians for whom Ahmadinejad is a hero.

The coverage of the Iranian election reminded me of the way the western media portrayed the Presidential election in Belarus in 2006. The reporting made it seem as if there were huge sections of the population in favour of the-‘pro western’ candidate, who was going to privatise the economy, line up obediently to join NATO and the EU and embark on the economic ‘reforms’ so beloved by western capital.

The result of the election: a landslide victory for President Lukashenko.

The western media had neglected the opinions of old age pensioners, peasants, factory workers and the working-class in general. In other words they'd forgotten about the majority of the population- the people who have benefited most from Lukashenko's rule. And of course when the result was announced, there were the inevitable cries of 'How can it be so!', and 'It's a fix!', as there have been after the Iranian poll.

Let’s hope that after getting the Iranian election so embarrassingly wrong, the western media learns its lesson. As Abbas Barzegar writes in this excellent piece:

In the future, observers would do us a favour by taking a deeper look into Iranian society, giving us a more accurate picture of the very organic religious structures of the country, and dispensing with the narrative of liberal inevitability. It is the religious aspects of enigmatic Persia that helped put an 80-year-old exiled ascetic at the head of state 30 years ago, then the charismatic cleric Khatami in office 12 years ago, the honest son of a blacksmith – Ahmedinejad –four years ago, and the same yesterday.

A final point regarding the western coverage of the Iranian elections. It seemed compulsory for western commentators to use the adjective ‘hardline’ whenever they mentioned the Iranian President.

And to use the word ‘reformer’ when mentioning his main challenger.

Here's what those terms actually mean in this context.


Charlie Marks said...

The impact on the positive coverage of the opposition candidate by British and American media will have been used by the incumbent - in the context of the past support for the Shah and the coup against the Mossadegh. So the promotion of the "green revolution" might have led more to turn out to stop it from happening. Who knows? Certainly the outcome of the election reflects opinion polling before hand.

Anonymous said...

I've read that the election results were quite a bit different from the pre-election polls.

While I disagree with Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole on most things, my hat is off to them for their coverage of the Iran election and the aftermath.

Anonymous said...

It is probably true that Ahmadinejad won because of his popularity with ordinary Iranians. It is, also, true that the election was neither 'free' nor 'fair' by any acceptable standards; not least, the prior vetting of candidates as to their 'Islamic purity'.

Likewise in Belarus in 2006, Lukashenka could have won freely and fairly but he did not even try to do this: the state media was anything but open and election officials happily moved opposition candidates ballots onto Mr Lukashenka's pile (even though his pile was indeed larger) in sight of election monitors!!!

Ends never justify means.

Neil Clark said...

Charlie- spot on. Douglas- the outcome does reflect opinion polling beforehand, as Charlie says. It's disappointing to see Juan Cole take this line.
The rules of the game are this: if the candidate who the west doesn't like wins, then it is always 'it's a fix', especially if he wins easily. Biden says he has 'major doubts' about the Iran poll- but I don't recall any senior US statesman say they had 'major doubts' about the 2004 Georgian elections in which Saakaswally apparently got 96% of the vote.

Think back to 2000. The US State Dept said beforehand that if Milosevic won it would only be by cheating. So in other words there was no way Milosevic could win 'fairly'. There's no way candidates that don't pay Danegeld to the Empire can win fairly- if they win, then it's because they've rigged the poll.

I would have thought this process was so transparent that the point didn't have to be made, yet still poeple are falling for the western propaganda re Iran's election.

jolies-colouers: re the point you make about the vetting of candidates in Iran- is that all that different to what happens in the US? In the US you only have a chance of getting to the White House if you curry favour with Big Money. Anti-capitalist candidates are not officially prevented from standing, but the fact that you have to raise so much money to have any sort of chance of winnning has the same practical effect. Any candidates who would seriously threaten the status quo in the US are weeded out.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disappoint you Neil but though the influence of money does distort the US electoral process, it remains a process that reflects most people's capitalist consensual opinion. The 'centre' is where it is at: we may not like it but that is how it is -and there is a lot more space to change it (and enjoy the right to do so) than in Iran (or indeed Belarus)!

Neil Clark said...

jolies: 'the influence of money does distort the US electoral process,'

I think that's putting it very mildly. The influence of money decides everything in American politics.

And there's also the role of the corporate media to consider too.

I think that Lukashenko in Belarus reflects most people's 'consenusal opinion' far more than US Presidents who only reflect the artificially created corporate 'consensus'- a consensus which might be good for Goldman Sachs and co, but is not good for the majority of Americans.

All best, Neil

olching said...

You're spot on with this, Neil.

The reporting has been a sham. Perhaps election rigging went on (though those claiming this never say how they are meant to have done this), but at present there is no real evidence of this.

It is also interesting to see the way in which violence is reported. When Mousavi's supporters trash cities, it is justified anger and frustration (and perhaps it is).

When the miners in Romania go on a march, it they are depicted as 'the mob'.

There are also huge parallels with the recent Moldovan elections where the defeated neoliberal parties claimed that Voronin had got dead people to vote for him. Though the claim was patently untrue, it was reported as such in the western media, and will thus stay in people's minds in precisely that manner.

olching said...

By the way, there was this one really good article in the Guardian on the election (but just the one). Enjoy the read.

olching said...

Damn, I just noticed that you quoted Abbas' article...apologies!

Neil Clark said...

hi olching, many thanks.
your analogy with Moldova is a good one.

yes, whenever the violence is carried out by the side the west approves of it is portrayed as 'democratic forces protesting' - such as the thuggery outside the Parliament in Belgrade in Oct 2000. But when it's carried out by those opposed to pro-western govts, as in Hungary a couple of years back, or Romanian miners- the protestors are 'the mob' and 'football hooligans', trying to overthrow 'democracy!.

Actually watching the news tonight gave me sense of deja vu. It's October 2000 all over again. According to the western narrative a dastardly 'hardline dictator' has faked the results and 'stolen' an election. The opposition (the 'good guys') are demonstrating so that the 'democratic' will of the people will be respected, even though they have produced no credible evidence that the election was fixed. But October 2000 in Yugoslavia wasn't about people power toppling a 'dictator', it was an illegal coup d'etat, and that is what is being attempted in Iran at this very minute.

Anonymous said...

FYI:Democracynow slips to the right with its latest interview on Iran:

What we are witnessing is the power of controlled chaos....Dosent this resemble events in Venezuela???

Also fyi:
Protests as low-level terrorism says US dept of defence!:
The same country is happy to back protests in Iran!


Anonymous said...

'While I disagree with Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole on most things, my hat is off to them for their coverage of the Iran election and the aftermath.'

Douglass...Their what??? Coverage?Juan Cole is no where near Iran! And what he provides is conjecture...ive already emailed him on his wretched efforts at clarification!
Democracynow is just as bad...can someone PLEASE have a talk with Amy Goodman...


jack said...

Or Neo Nazis in the case of Bolivia.

Anonymous said...

The corporate media in the U.S. is significantly more diverse than the state controlled/influenced media in Belarus! I know both well!

Anonymous said...

Milosevic was removed from power pretty much the same way he had risen to it:

Or would you like to suggest a legal way to replace someone that has strict control over parliament, repressive apparatus and courts - and is unwilling to leave voluntarily, results of the election notwithstanding?

What happened on Oct 5th 2000 was a breakdown of that system of power. Don't tell me you're seriously considering that storming a couple of buildings in downtown Belgrade would have resulted in a successful "coup d'etat" by itself. Milosevic pretty much tried to pull the same thing he did in 1996, when his party (SPS), faced with the loss of local majority in almost every Serbian city, filed unprecedented number of complaints, which were - surprise, surprise - summarily accepted by the courts. Didn't work in 1996. Didn't work in 2000. He had the option of remaining in power through his party even in 2000 (remember, SPS & co. still held the majority), but he just couldn't let go of his personal position.

Re:Iran, so as not to be completely off-topic, I think that both candidates have the stamp of religious council approval on their backsides, and I'm not holding my breath. Pretty much the same deal as in the US - you elect one of the two guys someone else picked for you to choose from.

Anonymous said...

Now that Iran's revolutionary council has agreed to a recount, will you be needing any help to wipe the egg off your face?

Louis said...

Im not sure about all this Iran has a young population who I think voted against Ahmadinejad, having said that I think he still would of won even without election rigging. We should all so remember election violence in Egypt and Uzbekistan which the west dismised as Islamic extremism and suported the to tyrants.

David Lindsay said...

I didn’t want Ahmadinejad to win, and I certainly don’t put it past him to have rigged the election. But at least such rigging would have been the old-fashioned kind.

Here in Britain, we could never have a situation in which the faaaashionable persons took to the streets at the (real or apparent) victory of a candidate favoured by the poor, the workers and the country-dwellers instead. Such a victory could never happen in the first place, because such a candidate could never exist in the first place, thanks to Fleet Street and the BBC, not to mention the Electoral Commission.

No wonder that Auntie is so sympathetic towards the rioters. Iran clearly needs her to sort things out.

And how dare those proles and rustics fail to vote as directed by the opinion polls conducted only among the Tehran Twinklies! It couldn’t happen here…

jock mctrousers said...

The usual media story is that the biggest demonstration in UK history was the countryside alliance one in favour of fox-hunting; and they claim that 1 million turned up for the not-very-left queen mother's funeral. Numbers don't make 'goodies'.
I can't think of an instance when the BBC and the rest, not to mention Western politicians, have supported anything that didn't favour the wealthy over the downtrodden, so we can fairly assume that these protests are reactionary, albeit supported by a lot of people who probably have an ill thought-out notion that change is necessarily for the better. If the US supports it, it isn't - for the majority anyway.

Roland Hulme said...

Never thought I'd say it, Neil - but we're actually on the same page about this issue. Something about the 'fraud' fervor got my Spidey senses tingling and it turns out things aren't nearly as black and white as the media would have it appear.

Good article, and props for getting to it so quickly.

Anonymous said...

Iran's Guardian Council has just admitted that turnout in 50 cities exceeded 50%. But they must be wrong because the great scholar of Cicero says so. You are very funny.

Neil Clark said...

anonymous- or may I call you, (or indeed just '2'12')
"Iran's Guardian Council has just admitted that turnout in 50 cities exceeded 50%."
I think it's you who is being funny....

Neil Clark said...

ps '212'- i posted your other, very funny comment from Harvard underneath the 'Sign of the Times' post as it has nothing to do with Denis Machane, except that it shows the great loyalty that supporters of the HJS have for one another