February 23, 2004

What does a number mean?


I find it amusing in reading Iranian blogs, web sites and email lists to see how obsessed some otherwise intellectual people are with the game of percentages being played in Iran. Particularly what percentage of eligible voters participated in last Friday's erroneous elections. There were no international observers, so the actual number you'd accept as fact depends on your point of view. They range from 10 to 15 percent offered by some opposition groups, to Interior Ministry's "official" 50.57% and the regime loyalists who talk of "massive turnouts".

Why it matters little is many folds; firstly and as stated, there's no way to know the actual number. Even if you accept any of the above figures, how do you account for the large expected fraudulent numbers never released? Putting those aside also, how would one figure in all the voters who participate not because they endorse the sham, but because they have to. This includes members of armed forces (including drafted soldiers), all government employees, those working with various official and semi-official "foundations" who own much of Iran's major industries, students attending state subsidized universities, many of the people receiving pensions or other government financial assistance (such as war veterans, etc.) and finally residents of small towns and villages where almost all their daily affairs are closely administered by the local mosque or mullah and would not dare causing any souring of that relationship.

In short, even if 80% take part in the next fake election, it won't prove anything. It will not be a sign of approval for the regime or the process in any way or shape. What is clear, is that the majority of Iranians do not approve of this regime. If they did, there would be no reason for the establishment to deny the demand of its various inside and outside opposition to hold a binding and monitored referendum and either silence all the critics once and for all, or accept their policies of the past 25 ears have been a major disaster and accept the consequences. Only if that vote is internationally supervised and accepted binding by all sides will we be able and justified to argue about what the numbers actually mean or how it'll effect the future of Iran.

Here's something I translated for Iran Filter last week. Originally posted on Persian weblog of Z8UN, it may reflect on what goes on in the minds of some Iranians as the election approached and an example of worries that will bring many to the ballot boxes, in this case in fear of a lost pension check:

"Yesterday at the public swimming pool, two middle-aged ladies were chatting by the shallow end... I had also gone to that area... Near where the filtered water is returned to the pool... People like to stand around there... It feels a bit like a Jacuzzi... The older woman who was also a bit heavier was saying; "I'll be forced to vote on Friday... because I'm a retiree... I'm worried that if my ID card doesn't show the election stamp, they may stop my retirement pension... And my daughter is also a university student and it my affect her too..." The other woman who was wearing way too much make-up replied somewhat irritably; "What is all this talk? I'm on a pension too but the section on my card for election stamps, is cleaner than a Mullah's rear-end" ...

The way she talked, did not suit her grace... and although the past two or three years on the Internet my eyes and ears have been opened to so much, I still have not had the privilege of a pilgrimage to any Mullah's rear-end to judge it's cleanliness.

She then said that she has a son who is an MD, another son that is an engineer and her daughter has studied law and neither one has ever voted without having suffered from it. Then the heavier lady said; "Yes, but then if they want to leave the country or become somebody here, you'll understand!" The other woman replied "In fact, they traveled abroad too and one is an assistant professor in university and attends seminars all over the world regularly...They make up these stories to get us to vote"

I didn't stay longer to see if the chubby lady was finally convinced or not... I could see some doubt on her face... Had I stayed longer, they would have known I was eavesdropping. But this time, even the religious studies teachers have instructed their kids to ask their parents to not vote! This time, people are not as scared... Particularly after the Bam earthquake, the little respect some had for these guys (regime) is gone."

Posted by Pedram at February 23, 2004 12:12 AM

Thanks a lot dear Pedram:):X
baba chera hame mikhan ye khalale tiz dar man foroo konan:)))Alaghast dige;)

Posted by: zeitoon at February 23, 2004 12:49 AM

I didnt vote. although I'm going to have ms exam this friday. they will fake the votes anyway. why should we bother ourselves to vote?

Posted by: proshat at February 23, 2004 01:10 AM

Hi Pedram,

although I followed the election and the events around it through the media, I could not find some detailed information on the way the elections were conducted. Maybe you or somebody here can fill in those details. I am convinced the election is a big fraud, so much is clear from what was reported in the news. But as the different sides attack each other with widely varying numbers and no way to tell for an outsider what the real situation is, let me ask:

o Was the counting of the votes a process that could be supervised by the interested public or did it happen behind closed doors, controlled by conservative officials?

o If people think they need to vote for getting some approval (i.e. for university, pension, etc.), I imagine they could have produced invalid votes in order to avoid supporting the conservatives. Of course, this is only possible if your vote remains secret. Has the secrecy of the vote been ensured in the voting process, or must I fear that people have been pressured to vote for the conservatives in large numbers?

o Is there any way to get credible numbers about how many voters have indeed produced invalid votes as described above? I presume the officials will still count those invalid votes in the participation figures which are so hotly debated.

o I read today that the council of guardians is accusing the responsible ministry of publishing the wrong numbers (i.e. they said the participation was about 60% as opposed to the official 50%). Have they given any evidence to support their claim? Have they counted the votes themselves? Maybe they simply asked Allah...

o It seems that the numbers in Tehran are quite different from those in rural areas. Does that mean that the conservatives still have a large following amongst villagers, and that the opposition is by and large a matter for the large towns? Are the Iranians divided?

I also found it quite remarkable that the council of guardians said that the new parliament would give up on the reform debate and instead will be led by religious conviction, and will concentrate on enforcing faith and moral in public life. This is remarkable and revealing in several ways. First, the council of guardians sees it fitting to speak on behalf of an elected body before this body had a chance to meet. Surely the parliament would have been able to speak for itself, once it had assembled. Second, the purpose of parliament is to enforce the will of the people. Not so in the opinion of the guardian council, they appear to believe that its purpose is to enforce the will of the guardians. Thirdly, the guardians claim the parliament will be occupied with solving the problems of the people, yet completely fails to notice what those needs are.

To me, this means that the council of guardians have given up democracy, even as a fig leaf. It means that they dismiss democracy openly and completely. If they have the power to get away with this then the parliament that has just been elected is as irrelevant as the sovjet parliament under Stalin.

Posted by: Stefan at February 23, 2004 05:18 AM

I totally disagree with you.
1- Based on the wildest rumours about the vote rigging and the official numbers, you can have some impression of the real numbers.

2- No matter how one fails in coming up with the real outcome, there are lessons to be learned that you wouldn't get without trying to analyze the numbers. For exapmle, based on a comment I received and researches I did, I learned that in many rural areas the election in not about choosing reform or status quo, or Islamic Repblic, yes or no. It is about sending someone to Parliament to bring back for them a paved road, a school, a hospital that they have been waiting for a long time. The fact that many Iranians tend to forget is Heartland Iran. The least upside that "obsession in percentages" can have is shedding light on that part of Iran (or even some parts of Tehran) where is not covered by bloggers' reports.

Posted by: WhoMan at February 23, 2004 07:10 AM

Interesting relay of the conversation poolside. Perhaps not voting will not bring the rath of the official government, but people circulate the story and many believe it. Reminds me of the stories told adolescents for years about hair growing on your palms and going blind to discourage unwanted behaviour.

Posted by: Dave at February 23, 2004 09:49 AM

Answering Stefan;

- Behind closed doors. Only observers were government officials.

- An "invalid" vote could be read into record as a vote for Mr. X and there's no way for public to check that, as pointed out in first repsponse.

- There isn't. Interior Ministry officials are government employees and ultimately only accountable to supreme leader.

- No evidence was presented. But even the 50% marker included at least 5 regions having over 100% of the eligible voters actually vote!!! You figure. Here's the link in Persian: http://www.iran-chabar.de/1382/12/04/003.htm

- There is more dissent in larger cities, no doubt. But small towns are 1) subject to more direct control by their local officials and 2) easier to commit fraud in when it comes to reporting. Both points referred to by Pedram also.

The leader also gave a speech that pretty much laid out what this new parliament will and will not do. It's remarkable how close to Shah's appointed legislative body this whole thing has become. Something this guys always pointed to as one of Shah's biggest flaws.


Posted by: Nasser at February 23, 2004 10:21 AM

The problème of iran ...

[ DELETED - You keep cut and pasting the same racist "comment" to every post (example: http://www.eyeranian.net/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=771) . If you have anything new to discuss, we are all ears. Otherwise this blog does not welcome racial rants about superiority or inferiority of any culture and people over another. - Pedram ]

Posted by: PPP at February 23, 2004 03:20 PM

Alright, Pedram, I'll give you something new to discuss. First of all, it should be obvious to you by now that political power does not come from a ballot. It comes from the barrel of a gun.
Secondly, what needs to happen in Iran is for a religious conservative, perhaps Ghodratollah Alikhani, to be eliminated. After a few dozen of these sons of bitches show up with their balls shoved in their throats, the conservatives will get the message. There are people in Russia who will, for a price, handle your problems with the religious fanatics.

Posted by: Robert Lindh at February 23, 2004 05:45 PM

In just over 100 years Iranians have tried 6 or 7 major uprisings and 3 revolutions, more than any other nation on earth. I think they now know best that nothing positive ever comes from "the barrel of a gun" and want to try a different route. I salute them in their endeavor.

Posted by: visitor at February 23, 2004 06:00 PM


According to an article by Sadegh Saba the ex-head of BBC Persian In actual fact the regime had got an endorsement from 15% of the population, which is exactly the same percentage that had voted for Hardliners in the previous elections.

His figures add up check it out... also Haghaghatjou in her resignation speech in parliament had said that approximately 16% of votes cast had been blank. While in 5 towns alone the participation numbers did not add up as the figure showed that well over 100% of eligible voters had taken part

Posted by: nafiseh at February 24, 2004 03:11 PM

In the future, after the fall of the mullahs and their tyranni, we'll have the opportunity to do surveys, in order to figure out how big liars they are, and most importantly to emphasize our right to free speach and democracy!

Posted by: mardep at February 24, 2004 04:47 PM

That graph cracks me up!

Posted by: winterwife at February 24, 2004 05:17 PM

I mean pie chart, of course. Long day.

Posted by: winterwife at February 24, 2004 05:17 PM