Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The People's Iran

by Hon. David Kilgour

Mizzima News -Among the many e-messages coming from Iran in recent days, I found one from a woman especially moving:

"...this is the most authentic,
grassroots and beautiful movement from the people,
by the people and for the people."
Iranians have spoken with defiant demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands and in rallies elsewhere, including one last weekend near Paris, drawing 90,000 in protest against alleged widespread election fraud and the unleashing of terror by state security forces.

June 12 election

The ayatollahs' election monitors this week admitted that the number of ballots cast in fifty cities on June 12th exceeded the number of eligible voters, although they insisted, unconvincingly, that this affected only three million votes. Adding to the mounting skepticism is an analysis by the respected Chatham House and Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrew's University, which challenges the official results based on a comparison of the 2009 votes with those of 2005.

The study reveals that in a third of all provinces the official results, if accurate, would have required Ahmadinejad to win over not only all 'conservative' voters, all former centrist ones and all new voters, but up to 44 percent of formerly 'reformist' voters despite a decade of conflict between the two groups.

Among numerous other indications of ballot stuffing are reports that before the election a number of officials in the Interior Ministry (where the votes were counted) were fired because their loyalty to Ahmadinejad was questioned. In sum, the incumbent's declared victory by eleven million votes now looks likely fabricated.

Ballots vs. Bullets

The ongoing confrontation of ballots and bullets across Iran underlines an important major issue of the 21st century: how the direction in the Koran -- ''commanding right and forbidding wrong''-- is to be resolved in 48 nations with Muslim majority populations.

Recent voting trends are revealing. Indonesia, the largest Muslim democracy, held parliamentary elections in April 2009. Support for fundamentalist parties declined. Most voters seemed concerned about good governance and economic development. Overall, support for fundamentalist parties fell from 39% to 29.5%. The largest, the Prosperous Justice Party, won only 8.4% of the votes.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party captured 20.5% of the popular vote and he is expected to win re-election in the upcoming presidential ballot. His strategy of co-opting the good governance agenda and launching a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign was well received.

Pakistan and Malaysia

Similar conclusions can be derived from elections during 2008 in Pakistan and Malaysia. In both, most of the electorate voted for parties that promised good governance. Parties that had purely religious agendas did not do well. In Pakistan, votes went overwhelmingly to secular parties.

In Malaysia (which has a 65% Muslim majority), voters resoundingly rejected the ruling party in four major states despite its attempts to appeal to religious sentiments. For the first time since independence in 1957, the government fared very poorly; it was seen as corrupt and inefficient.

The elections in all three countries – Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia – as well as the more recent one in Lebanon, have important implications for other governments the world over: the best thing they can do is to encourage good governance that will deliver on education, economic growth and stability.


Iran is a vitally important country to the world for many economic, geographic and security reasons. Its culture is thousands of years old and it has a large and youthful population – almost two-thirds of Iranians are under the age of thirty.

What has transpired in Iran in recent days is home-grown and the brave people of Iran should be applauded for trying to establish a government for all. They might not succeed this time, but the momentum for change and greater freedom is rising and cannot be easily stopped.

The world was transfixed by Neda Soltan lying in a pool of blood, presumably because she got out of a car caught in traffic within sight of a sniper. The international community must consider with care its role in the future of Iran. Western governments should look for ways to be supportive without attempting to co-opt this movement into their own agendas. We hurt more than help if we are seen using the Iranians' movement to accomplish our ends. Democracy will come to Iran, but it will come not because of international agendas, but because the people of Iran want it and are prepared to sacrifice for it.

To its credit, Canada's Harper government has taken a firm stand against the terror of Khamenei-Ahmadinejad. Yet, to side unequivocally with the people of Iran, more should be done, including:

* Supporting the demand of the Iranian opposition for a nuclear-weapons-free Iran, with equal rights for women, minority communities and all religions; separation of church and state; the rule of law and an independent judiciary; representative democracy; and good relations with neighbors and the world. A first step here would be to follow the lead of the 27 EU countries and delist the PMOI opposition as a terrorist organization.

* Support the work of Iranian Canadians and others in their efforts toward good governance and the rule of law. For example, Canada should play a more active role in the work of Stop Child Executions, led by Iranian-born Canadian Nazanin Afshin-Jam.

* Propose additional UN sanctions against Iran's government until an election can be held with sufficient independent monitoring to provide a fair process.

In her email quoted above, the young Iranian woman also spoke of
"a spirit of fraternity, determination, resistance, courage, solidarity and
generosity that no word can describe."
It is this spirit the international community should share because the blood shed by Iranians are sacrifices made for the basic rights of us all.

(David Kilgour is co-chair of Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran, a member of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue of Ottawa and a former MP)

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