Criticism from Expats Helped Boost Iranian Turnout

Siamak Namazi, an economist and political analyst in Tehran, says a number of reasons fueled high turnout in Friday's Iranian presidential elections. Among them, he tells Jennifer Ludden, is that many Iranians were insulted by calls from expatriates in the United States, who were calling for a boycott.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Siamak Namazi is an economist and political analyst in Tehran. He says there were a number of reasons for the high turnout in yesterday's vote, for one thing, the ballot itself. Two reformers were allowed to run in the end and voters had an emotional reaction to the front-runner, but he says the most important draw, ironically, was criticism from abroad, especially the US. There were harsh words from the Bush administration about Iranian democracy and Namazi says Iranian expatriates in the US tried to engineer a boycott, a tactic that backfired.

Mr. SIAMAK NAMAZI (Political Analyst): Usually when you have opposition groups broadcasting in, the simple solution would be to scramble the satellites, not to actually make sure that everyone who doesn't have a satellite catches it on regular TV. And then they put it on uncensored, you know, every night for a couple of hours. They would show these opposition groups and calling for a boycott, and as I said, the language and the rhetoric were quite insulting to the Iranian psyche.

One of the clips that I watched, a guy was saying, `Anyone who comes out and votes is a complete idiot.' They were saying, you know, on the street, `Just abandon your car and leave. You know, just come down to Tehran, live the way we are, abandon your own town car. You know, don't sit there with your designer suits and tell people what their problems here how to react.' They just really--their entertainment value is a lot higher than anything else. Really it just shows how out of touch the outside opposition groups are with the realities on the ground in Iran.

LUDDEN: If it turns out that you're looking at a runoff between Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran...

Mr. NAMAZI: Right.

LUDDEN: ...how do you--what's the difference between the two men's platform there?

Mr. NAMAZI: A huge difference there. I mean, they would be at the opposite sides of the scale here. Hashemi is trying to appeal to the young, saying, `I will create more freedoms. I will fix the economy,' and he's appealing really maybe to the upper middle class and beyond while Ahmadinejad is coming in, saying, `I'm a people's man. I don't live like the rich. I'm just like you.' He was the only candidate in this campaign that emphasized Islamic values, etc. So that's--there are huge discrepancies there. Other than that, Ahmadinejad would have a much easier time with the parliament which is also taken over by hard-line conservatives.

LUDDEN: And Mehdi Karubi, who's contesting and saying he needs to be in the runoff vote, how does he compare with these other two candidates?

Mr. NAMAZI: Karubi is an interesting figure. He's known for his stubbornness and also for being pretty brave at some of the decisions. I think his performance in the 6th parliament was a lot better than his campaign. I mean, I'm kind of personally disappointed that he got so many votes based on his $60-per-month promise, but if you think about some of the things he did in parliament--for example, he's the only Iranian ranking official who actually did meet with members of the American Congress in September of 2001, if I'm not mistaken, when he came to the UN in New York. He's had bolder moves than most others.

LUDDEN: Being in Tehran and watching this, yourself taking part, do you consider this vote democracy?

Mr. NAMAZI: We have an imperfect democracy in Iran. I would say, you know, Iran is in one of those gray zones that becomes very hard to categorize. It's not a totalitarian state in the way that perhaps Condoleezza Rice describes it. There is a vote. Obviously there was a real turnout, but then again, it's by no means as free as you would be used to in a Western state. The question is not whether you can vote for a president, in my opinion, but how much authority that president would have to deliver the promises they make or to try to carry out the plans that they have.

LUDDEN: Siamak Namazi is a political analyst and managing director of Atieh Bahar, a consulting firm in Tehran.

Thanks so much.

Mr. NAMAZI: Thank you.

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