The same western media that has for the past seven years dismissed every genuine throb of freedom in the Middle East is now tripping over itself to praise a prix fixe “election” in a police state that continues to punish dissent with death.
Andrew Sullivan gets the question perfectly inverted when he asks, “Does anyone doubt that if this kid [sic] of peaceful campaigning were happening in Iraq, it would be regarded as a sign of a nascent democracy?” Iraqis could have held a resplendent Obama-McCain-style democracy jubilee and it still would have been yawned off as a sham.
“Peaceful campaigning” can be seen in any backwater dictatorship that tags the words “Democratic Republic of” onto its country name. It’s a cosmetic diversion that often presages phenomena like 100% turnout and 100% support for the incumbent. I’m more impressed with heated campaigning and the kind of defiance Iraqi voters have repeatedly demonstrated in facing down terrorists and making their voices heard on election day — most recently in regional elections that tilted handily toward non-fanatical parties.
Yet, no matter how vital the democratic spirit in Iraq, naysayers like Sullivan dismiss it as an evanescent quirk or a calculated ruse. Which is why he described that last remarkable Iraqi election in this way: “The elections aren’t happening on schedule and the powers that be are doing all they can to disenfranchise the powers that aren’t.”
But breathlessness reigns as Iranians go to the polls today to pick one of four candidates who were winnowed down from a pool of 475 by the Guardian Council. Here’s the BBC news gushing over the process:
“There has been a surge of interest recently in Iran’s presidential election, with unprecedented live television debates between the candidates and rallies attended by thousands.
Mr [Kamran] Daneshjoo [election commission chief] has said the turnout could exceed the 1997 election, in which reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected. State-run Irna TV said more than five million people cast their vote in the first four hours of voting.
And here’s Barack Obama celebrating the hand-picked final four as if the Berlin Wall was falling a second time:
“Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide,” he said.
“You’re seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there’s been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.”
There are only so many times you can say it, but it bears repeating: the four candidates were winnowed down from a pool of 475 by the Guardian Council. That Iranians “peacefully” embrace this autocratic manipulation as electoral freedom is a sad sign of a beaten down citizenry, not an indication of nascent democracy.