In a couple of weeks Islamic Republic in Iran will hold an "election" for the selection of the members of the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. What these political bodies are is not really relevant as I will explain in a moment. So far the majority of the candidates for these two assemblies have been disqualified through a non transparent process. Qualified candidates are chosen by the status quo for the purpose of maintaining the rule of the existing clique of clergies and their tight circles of beneficiaries. Open discussion of issues and criticism of the system is suppressed by detention, long term imprisonment and death. Meanwhile the Islamic regime spends plenty of resources to convince the population that they should participate and cast their ballots, portraying the people's participation as "patriotic", "anti-enemy" and "anti-imperialist". Should one participate in this election? Is there any principles one could adopt or follow?
In my opinion there are principles that need to be followed, but let's look at the popular wisdom in Iran. Many in Iran say that these elections are exercises in democracy and if we participate by voting for the candidates of the Islamic Republic, somehow, eventually reforms will come about. Some even try to compare the elections in Iran with the U.S. elections. They say in the U.S. people vote for the lesser of the evils and the same should be done in Iran and people should vote for the "reformists" against the "conservatives". In the last presidential election people rushed to vote for Rouhani and he won. He implemented the goal of the status quo, i.e. reaching a nuclear agreement with the U.S. In this Rouhani claims that he implemented the wishes of the people and secular Iranians pat themselves on the back for voting him in the office. They overlook the fact that the nuclear agreement was pursued prior to Rouhani and a character like Ahmadinejad was incapable of carrying such a critical policy. Election of Rouhani was to the benefit of the elite of the Islamic Republic and reform is mostly a talking point for Rouhani.
The popular wisdom is blind that all these candidates are Islamic Republic's candidates and the individual is not really making a choice. Elections in Iran is a mirage of democracy and it does not have anything to do with the elections in the U.S. There are no parallels.
There are no parallels because democracy does not begin with the status quo. Democracy is not given by the state. Democracy begins with the individual. It begins with me and you as citizens. It begins with our individual inalienable right to the freedom of thought, expression and exchange of ideas. In the U.S. this is an inherent right of the individual which the state cannot curtail. In Iran the definition of citizen begins with the curtailment of these rights. In another word citizen does not have any rights, there is no path for individual self determination.
Because of this fundamental question the elections in Iran are a sham, the individual cannot present his ideas, organize around his ideas and find or present a candidate. Democracy and its elections begin with the individual rights. Those inalienable rights which are respected in the U.S. and makes the elections real.
So, what should one do? It is simple, do not vote in any elections in Iran. If tomorrow Mousavi comes out of the house arrest and becomes a candidate again, he is the candidate of the Islamic Republic and as long as a person, that is you, does not have individual liberties, the right to think freely, write freely and criticize without fear of imprisonment, that person does not have a principled ground to participate in the Islamic Republic's elections. The only duty an individual has is to announce his/her decision, his abstention from voting, and declare his reason and let it be known to as many as possible. One only has to say, "I do not vote because my fundamental freedoms are denied." Democracy is about you and not about the state or elections. The central role of state and election in a democracy is to guarantee your individual freedoms. When you vote in an Islamic state you are denying your own rights and your vote is not an affirmation of democracy. Your vote will be a seal of approval of the state. A state that is against your interests. Principles make life simple and beautiful.
I am sure many will claim that by voting for the "reformists" they are widening the disputes and disagreements among the ruling elites and somehow reforms will pop out for the benefit of the general public. So far that has not been the case. Anybody who speaks his mind to the dislike of the elite is arrested, imprisoned and killed. The corruption is wide and deep as it has ever been. Rule of law is tantamount to the politics of the ruling elite. These elections will not bring reforms. At least nothing will come out of elections that would recognize your fundamental freedoms. When you vote, no matter for which candidate, you are voting for the candidate of the Islamic Republic, it is not your candidate. When you cannot speak and write freely you cannot have a candidate. Your vote will be for the Islamic state. The status quo counts your vote toward his legitimacy and declares victory against "infidels", "enemy" and "imperialists" and you are left without even a claim to the sovereignty of your mind.
It is true that there are disagreements among the elites and it takes different shapes and forms, but it has little to no relation to your vote. The disagreements in the Islamic Republic is rooted in the fact that a religious state does not have much room for existence and cannot find normal relations with a world dominated with modernity and democracy. In this dead end that they find themselves members of the elite constantly have to maneuver against each other about getting their hands on the spoils of the state, its revenue stream, mainly oil money. These disagreements were there from day one. Purging of its members who fall on the way side, Bani Sadr, execution of Ghotbzadeh, house arrest of Montazeri, imprisonment of many of its ministers and leaders, the latest being the house arrest of Mousavi and Kahroubi, will continue within the context of the election or outside of it. You have a duty to vote when your individual right to free expression is recognized. Democracy is not a conspiratorial game that by playing it one could hope to scoop up some gains. Scooping is done behind the scenes and you are not invited.
This democratic principle while simple has deep and broad implications, I will discuss it hopefully in the future posts along with the discussion of the U.S. elections. My previous post was the first in the series.