Shetland’s Male-Dominated Public Sphere

The dominance of men in Shetland’s public sphere is a phenomenon I have been increasingly concerned about over the last few years as I’ve grown more politically aware.  Speculating on the reasons why this is the case would most likely result in an ignorant and uninformed conclusion without proper research, so I will not attempt to do so.  However I do want to highlight several areas where I see a problem.

In terms of political representation, Shetland is blatantly governed by men.  Every single Member of Parliament and Member of the Scottish Parliament the islands have elected have been men.  Perhaps this is because few women even make it onto the ballot paper – last year I wrote a letter to the Shetland News outlining the problem:

   “With the selection of party candidates for the upcoming election a relatively topical issue, I decided to take a look back at previous elections to see which parties normally field candidates for Shetland and Orkney.
   Upon doing so I was shocked to discover that every party’s candidate has been a man since at least 1997. There hasn’t been a single woman on the ballot paper throughout all this time.
Wondering whether this was just a fluke, I had a look at Shetland’s constituency for the last four Scottish Parliament elections. In the 1999 and 2003 elections every candidate was a man, while in the 2007 and 2011 elections all the candidates except one were men, the woman both times put forward by the SNP.
   To compare this nationally: 20 per cent of Scottish MPs and 33 per cent of MSPs are women, suggesting that at least a fifth of constituencies had at least one woman on the ballot paper.”

I added:

   “Thus far only the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have announced their candidates for this May’s election, both of whom are men.
   I will be keeping a close eye on future announcements from Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and any other parties to see whether they will allow yet another election to be contested entirely by men.”

Unfortunately, the Labour, Conservative and UKIP candidates all proved, once again, to be men, making 2015 the fifth Westminster election in a row in which there was not a single woman on the ballot paper.  Although still overwhelmingly men, candidates for the Scottish Parliament’s Shetland constituency have continued to see better balance; for example, Labour fielded the excellent Robina Barton in last May’s election.  Nevertheless, 94% of votes ultimately went to male candidates.

As I stated in the letter, the same problem exists in the Shetland Islands Council (SIC):

“I discovered that only three of the 22 councillors are women – just 13.6 per cent. This is below the still shockingly small national average of 24.3 per cent.”

This inequality also includes leadership positions, with both the current Convenor and Political Leader of the Council being men.  As far as I’m aware, this has always been the case.

The same trend occurs if you look into the Shetland Charitable Trust, arguably the second most important public institution across the islands, controlling significant income from oil revenues.  The trustees are appointed from across Shetland society and include individuals with a background in the SIC (including current serving councillors), the police force, the NHS, the Church of Scotland, crofting and marine policy.  A good range of expertise, but unfortunately only two of the 14 are women.  At 14.2% this is virtually the same proportion as the SIC’s 13.6%.  For an organisation intended to provide funding for charitable causes and projects across the isles, this is a stark gap of experience and background.

The dominance of men also seems to include the press.  The majority of journalists in the Shetland Times and Shetland News appear to be men – although granted, this isn’t unusual in a national context.  It’s also true that, although the majority of The Shetland Times’ editors have been men, between 1990 and 2006 it did have a woman editor in Vaila Wishart.  Nevertheless, the current news team of the Shetland Times appears to consist entirely of men.

Moreover, if you take newspapers as a key forum for debate, the pattern continues.  In the most recent publication of the Shetland Times there were eight letters submitted to the editor, all written by men. (Interestingly, six were about the EU Referendum, with four of the six expressing support for Brexit, despite the fact that almost 57% of Shetlanders voted remain.  Is the male-dominance of the public sphere creating a right-wing, eurosceptic echo chamber?).  Similarly, all of the most recent contributions to the Shetland News letters page were penned by men.  Indeed, these pages tend to feature the same men, arguing with the same people, again and again.  In my experience the Facebook comments of the news outlets see more representative contributions – of both gender and age – but these by their nature are less public.

Perhaps the greatest example of all is the Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa, Shetland’s most famous cultural festival.  Women are prohibited from taking part in the prestigious Jarl Squads which lead the procession, ceremonially burn the Viking longship and tour across Shetland.  Their role is instead confined to catering.  The satirical website Da Bonxie recently mocked this, stating:

  1.  Up Helly-Aa is the perfect time to reflect on your failed marriage or relationship and use the opportunity to freely cheat on your partner.
     Lerwick Up Helly-Aa famously bans women from being in squads, so your indiscretions can be completely secret! Better yet, most Shetland women know it’s going on but no-one seems to care! It’s amazing!.
  2.  Up Helly-Aa is a truly special night for women. Not only do they get to let their husbands off the hook as we noted above, they also get to do housework in their glad rags!
    As women are banned from being in a squad, they attend one of 11 halls throughout the town. At these halls, they’re expected to clean, serve, cook, and help men cheat on their wives. Sounds great? Well get doubly excited ladies – you get to do all of this in your best dress and high heels! Incredible!

The Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa is allowed to be discriminatory in this way because, as a private club, it is not bound by equalities legislation.  The issue is becoming a matter of increasing discussion, with a recent (admittedly poorly-attended) Althing debate ending with a vote in favour of gender equality.  More promisingly, the country Up-Helly-Aa festivals allow women to take part, with the South Mainland Up-Helly-Aa even seeing its first female Guizer Jarl in 2015.  Yet, with Lerwick’s Up-Helly-Aa continuing to be the largest of the festivals and possessing the most status, there is still a long way to go for gender equality.  This is not so simple as a misogynistic elite preventing progress, either – there is significant support among the public for maintaining the traditions, as evidenced by this Facebook comment thread.

There are no doubt other areas in Shetland life where gender inequality is also prevalent.  However, I do need to stress that, in spite of this indisputable male-domination of the public sphere, as a whole I do not think Shetland society is significantly more patriarchal than the rest of Scotland or Britain.  Women are as active in the workforce as anywhere else, play key roles in Shetland’s cultural scene, such as in music and literature, are reasonably well-represented in professions including teaching and healthcare, and social attitudes are not generally different to elsewhere.  This makes the male hegemony of several public institutions all the more perplexing, but perhaps also suggests change would not be too difficult to achieve.

Having illustrated the problem, at some point I will probably write a follow-up post in which I try to explain the reasons behind this.  I’ve recently discovered a book called Myth and Materiality in a Woman’s World: Shetland 1800-2000 by Lynn Abrams, the former Professor of Gender History at the University of Glasgow, which looks like a fascinating read I hope will broaden my understanding of gender relations in Shetland.

If you’re reading this and you have any ideas/comments relating to what I’ve written about, I’d be very eagar to hear them!

A Political Day in Edinburgh

Sorry, this is going to be another one of those cobbled together ‘recounted a somewhat interesting day I had’ blog posts.  I promise I’ll try to get a more coherent program of output sometime soon, but for the moment my life’s still rather hectic (university’s utterly mad!).

The first round of excitement was a protest outside the Scottish Parliament I decided to attend, organised by the University of Edinburgh Amnesty International society.  I wasn’t involved in the planning but I gather it had also been put together in less than a week which, given the result, was very impressive indeed!   We were protesting against human rights abuses in Sri Lanka by the government of President Rajapaksa, specifically aimed at convincing David Cameron to raise the issue during an upcoming Commonwealth meeting hosted in Sri Lanka.  This was my first proper protest and I wasn’t disappointed.  We set out a fake beach for people dressed as Cameron and Rajapaksa to lay upon, wearing scarves (this is a Scottish beach), while the rest of held banners and shouted exciting protest chants.  The Amnesty Facebook page has a picture of the event here! (I’m the one in the bright yellow jacket who happens to be blinking at the moment of capture).

Then, even more excitingly, we were joined by some MSPs.  My political hero Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, came out and had some pictures taken with us.  Fellow Green Alison Johnstone was also there, along with Scottish National Party MSP Marco Biagi and Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson.  It was thrilling to see so much support from within the political establishment; we weren’t shouting at a deaf parliament.

So that was all very fun indeed – if ‘fun’ is the right way to refer to a protest – well, it was fun!  My second political event of the day was a debate on Scottish independence hosted by the university.  Speaking in favour of independence was MSP Marco Biagi, whose schedule today appeared to be as busy as mine, and University of Edinburgh rector Peter McColl, representing the Green Party.  Speaking against the motion was a Labour-Conservative partnership, something becoming increasingly common in Scotland, featuring Labour MP Sheila Gilmore* and Conservative MSP Gavin Brown.  Not much new was raised I didn’t know previously, aside from the startling fact that Spain has suggested it would veto an independent Scotland’s membership into the EU purely to quell Catalonian aspirations.  Considering this behaviour, I have every sympathy for Catalonian secessionists.

The voting was very interesting, however.  The initial audience vote turned out to be –

Yes: 17 votes (21.25%)
No: 30 votes (37.5%)
Undecided: 33 votes (41.25%).

Compared to national polls the Yes/No divide was very similar but there were far many more undecided votes than I expected.  Glad most people went into it with an open mind.  Even more interesting was to be the post-debate results:

Yes: 36 votes** (42%)
No: 37 votes (45%)
Undecided: 9 votes (11%)

I certainly didn’t expect the Yes vote to make such progress, which was very interesting.  Of course it’s worth remembering that the room had a significant number of international students in it, who I’d presume would tend to be more positive towards independence (internationalism was a central theme of the debate; I was particularly impressed by Peter McColl’s “I’m not a nationalist; I’m an internationalist” speech).

So, yeah.  I really enjoyed my engagement with politics today and, in a bit of a post-political high, decided to stop putting off something I’ve been considering for a while and finally joined a political party – the Scottish Greens.  I share so many views and aims with the party that it makes sense.

To many more exciting days like this!

*It’s probably a bit unfair to lump Sheila Gilmore together with the Tories, as she seems one of the more principled members of the Labour Party and earned my respect through the debate.
**I somehow got it into my head that the Yes/No final result had been 46/47, but this would have added about 20 people to the audience so I’m assuming I just misheard.  The No result definitely only had a lead of one vote, either way.

University Beckons

Steven Hill [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, at approximately 5:30pm, I will begin the 20-hour journey which shall take me to university in Edinburgh.  This is both nerve-wracking and exciting beyond belief – and my time will probably be significantly taken up by concentrating on settling in, Fresher’s week, studies, and so on.  So this blog might be quiet for a while.  Hopefully I’ll find time to write a thing or two here and there, but I won’t even attempt to stick to any schedules until I’m fully into the flow of university life.  Once I am, I’ll probably aim to continue the rate of something like 3 posts a week.

There’s a few elections coming up and I was initially planning to cover each in depth in a similar vein to how I discussed Australian polling a month ago, but since I’ve simply run out of time I’ll just have to give a brief summary of each one:

7th September 2013 – Australian General Election
When I made that last update on Australian polling it looked as though there might be some hope for the Labor Party, which experienced a boost in ratings since Kevin Rudd usurped Julia Gillard as party leader, but this seems to have since subsided.  No poll has shown the Labor party ahead in the Two-Party Preferred Vote since the end of July, in in the last week the Liberal/National Coalition has regularly been ahead by 2-3%.  This would be enough to give them somewhere around 83 – 86 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives – a clear majority.  So while nothing can ever be certain in politics – the race is tight enough for this to not entirely be a foregone conclusion – it’s difficult to envisage a scenario in which Tony Abbot doesn’t become Australia’s next Prime Minister.

7th September 2013 – Maldivian Presidential Election
Because the issue of elections in the Maldives is so complex, and as I know so little about it, nothing I can write here will really do it justice.  The island-nation of 320,000 experienced its first free polls in 2008 and, despite hiccups, seemed on generally the right path towards democracy.  Unfortunately, like most first tries at democracy, this collapsed in 2012 with what is widely considered a coup which removed President Nasheed and replaced him with his vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.  Mohamed Nasheed claimed to have been forced to resign at gunpoint, effectively making this a military-backed coup.  I haven’t particularly followed events since but I have noticed an upsurge in stories of human rights abuse which have concerned rights groups including Amnesty International.  So I can’t really say what I think will happen in this presidential election, but I really hope it can put the country back on the track towards democracy.

9th September 2013 – Norwegian Parliamentary Election
Things don’t look great for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway since 2005.  Leader of the Labour Party, he has governed Norway as part of the ‘Red-Green’ coalition, also including the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.  He only just clung onto power in the 2009 elections, when his coalition won fewer votes than the opposition but through quirks of the system managed to win the most seats.  This resulted in calls for an overhall of the electoral system, which as far as I’m aware haven’t been implemented.

A look at opinion polls shows that recently, beginning in May 2012, the Conservative Party began to enjoy a lead.  Since I last checked the Labour Party had actually managed to get ahead by a few percentage points as the most popular party – I wonder if Stoltenberg’s side job as a taxi driver helped? – but the Red-Green Coalition as a whole is being overtaken by the opposition due to the poor results for the Socialist Left and Centre Parties.  In terms of seats, while it’s possible that the Labour Party might be the largest party, the Conservative-led opposition coalition looks set to pick up a lead of 20-30 seats as a whole in the parliament of 169 seats.  The latest estimate I can see it 96 seats for the opposition and 71 for the Red-Green Coalition, despite the Labour Party beating the Conservatives by 54 seats to 46.  In conclusion, I would imagine that this result would see Stoltenberg be replaced as Prime Minister by either Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party or Siv Jensen of the Progress Party.  Like Australia, red will probably fade to blue.

My Issues with Westminster Politics

I’ve noticed that, other than to discuss opinion polling (a post on which is overdue), I don’t tend to speak about British politics very much on this blog.  This isn’t because it doesn’t interest me, nor because I don’t follow it.  I just don’t tend to have much to say, for some reason or another.  I think this may partly be due to the fact that, regarding Westminster at any rate, I tend to feel a general antipathy towards the entire system.  I dislike our monarchical system, I blame the electoral system for a large number of problems our country faces – or, at least, for limiting our solutions – and I don’t feel inspired by any of the major parties:

The Conservative Party
My views tend to veer to the left so, clearly, the UK’s main right-wing party does nothing for me.  I oppose our current Conservative-led government’s obsessive drive to enforce austerity upon us, thereby punishing the weakest of our society for a crisis they didn’t cause.  While recognising the private sector has its place I oppose the relentless agenda of privatisation they’re enforcing upon us.  Ridiculous assaults on people in need of benefits with policies such as the ‘bedroom tax’ are disgraceful.  While I am thankful for David Cameron’s somewhat moderate leadership, trying to reign in the Eurosceptic backbenches and pushing through gay marriage, I still think he is a poor prime minister.

UKIP
Same as the Conservatives, but worse.  As someone who is pro-Europe, pro-immigration, pro-renewable energy but not particularly fond of pubs, I don’t think I have a single thing in common with this party.

Labour
I really want to like Labour.  In theory the mainstream party of social democracy, my amateur opinion is that it abandoned this title long ago.  New Labour did some great things – most of which were before I became politically aware – my favourite of which is introducing the minimum wage, but it seemed to bow to the concept of privatised, unadulterated individualism which Thatcher imposed upon the country.   More shockingly, I’ve read a few criticisms from Labour supporters at the flimsiness of Labour’s policies which, after a whole 13 years of being implemented, are easily being torn away in a fraction of the time by our current coalition government.  If Labour were to promise some real, left-wing progressive policies – nationalisation of the railways,  ambitious cuts to carbon emissions, the scrapping of Trident and a proper, growth-focused alternative to austerity, to name a few – I might change my mind.  As it is, we have a shadow cabinet which has stated it will more or less continue the coalition’s austerity drive and is currently tearing itself apart over the role of unions in the party.  I’m not well informed enough about this issue to make a detailed comment but, without the unions, what would be the point of Labour?  They’d simply be a less scary version of the Conservatives.

Liberal Democrats
I think people have been too harsh to the Liberal Democrats at times.  As a junior partner in a coalition, with less than 1/5 of the seats the Conservative party have (they should have three times as many but, you know, our electoral system…) they really can’t be expected to live up to all of their promises.  That said, Liberal Democrat policies have taken such a beating in this government – tuition fees, changing the electoral system, reforming the House of Lords, etc – that I’m amazed any of their MPs see the coalition as still being worthwhile.  I suspect they’re staying in only in the hope that their abysmal poll performance improves.  The last three years has been proof that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is in reality a vote for either Labour or Conservative, depending whichever performs better.  That said, of the four they would still probably be my preferred option, if only because they are the only party seeking to reform the electoral system and end this straitjacket upon British politics.

It’s not the only reason, but an electoral system which only lets our vote count for two almost identical parties is why I largely feel disillusioned with Westminster politics and why I have far more confidence in the Scottish system.  I’m sure I can’t be the only person being pushed by this charade towards viewing Scottish independence as a positive thing.

Nevertheless, I will try to pay greater attention to developments in both UK and Scottish politics, and I’ll make an effort to blog about them a little more.  I doubt that will do much for my lack of faith but it might make it more justified.  If you disagree with any of this, please let me know why!

Problems with First Past The Post

I’m really not fond of the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system, used in many elections around the world.  I’ve just found an excellent video which details the severe flaws of this broken system.  The video explains it far better than I can, but to summarise its points:

  1. It nearly always results in minority rule.
    Elections very rarely result in majorities.  Usually opinion will be divided between a number of candidates and parties, meaning that the winner will nearly always have less than 50% of the vote.  This is how the UK generally ends up with a government the majority don’t want, an extreme example being the Labour Government from 2005-2010 which was only elected with 35.2% of the vote but won 55.2% of seats in parliament.  In more complex systems you can get candidates elected who actually won less votes then their rival – George Bush in 2000, for instance.
  2. Creates a two-party system.
    Due to the ‘winner takes all’ nature of FPTP, many parties or candidates who regularly poll in 3rd or 4th place have virtually no chance of winning an election, despite having a modest level of popularity (perhaps 20% or so).  Over time the voters for these parties will realise this and shift their votes to more popular parties, leaving only the very faithful continuing to vote for these parties.  This results in the growth of two parties- usually one left-wing party and one right-wing party.  Why is this a bad thing?  Well, it polarises political debate and suggests that there are only two options for governance, when in reality there may be many different opinions going unrepresented.  It makes it more difficult for individuals or ideas to gain representation and, in some cases (such as the USA… again), allows businesses and corporations which support the parties to have disproportionate influence.
  3. Can result in gerrymandering.
    I would hope this isn’t that great an issue in democracies which use FPTP today, but it does recur every time plans are made to create new electoral boundaries – which must happen regularly to keep up with demographic changes so that all constituencies or voting areas have the same population to ensure no areas have greater influence than others.  For more corrupt and authoritarian governments it provides an easy means of rigging elections but even in healthy democracies, creating boundaries all parties can accept is an added complexity which can be costly and time consuming.
  4. Voting third party is always a bad idea.
    Unless you dislike both major parties or candidates equally, this is a huge problem.  In the UK most people have a preference towards either Labour or Conservative (despite often blurring lines between them), even if they wouldn’t like either party to be elected.  It’s the same with Republicans and Democrats in the USA.  Say you’re a left-leaning liberal in Fictionland and decide to vote for the Liberal Party.  Most people who vote Liberal are also left-leaning.  Unfortunately this splits the left-leaning vote and allows the right-wing Free Market Party to form a government with less than 50% of the vote.  Therefore, by voting for the Liberal Party instead of the Socialist Party, these voters – who make up a majority of Fictionland’s electorate – allowed a government to be formed which they didn’t want.  This is, in my opinion, the main reason Margaret Thatcher got elected so many times in the 80s, because the left-wing vote was split between Labour and the Liberal-Social Democrats.  On the other hand, it is speculated that the rise of UKIP will benefit Labour because many Conservative voters will shift to them.

Any one of these reasons alone is enough to make FPTP a terrible system, but together it is shocking that we still use it.  There are many alternative systems to FPTP but my favourite of these is the Additional Member System which, happily for me, is used in Scotland.

Once a FPTP system is in place it is very difficult to remove because, obviously, it works in favour of all the major parties.  In such a strict two-party system as the USA it’s unlikely that the electoral system will change for a very long time.  In the UK things are a bit more optimistic: the pro-reform Liberal Democrat Party, for instance, became a part of a coalition government in 2010 and managed to push through a referendum on the electoral system.  This was defeated for a number of reasons – the most significant being that the alternative system was pretty poor – and electoral reform seems to have gone off the agenda since.

I’ll admit that there are also benefits of FPTP system: the most convincing of which being that it provides stability and limits the influence of extremist parties.  This would be particularly useful for new democracies which often collapse due to weak governments (this is a major reason Hitler was able to take power in Germany in 1933).  There are also a few occasions where I think it would benefit a long-lasting democracy, such as Israel which produces such inconclusive results that political and religious extremists nearly always play the role of ‘Kingmaker’ and are often included in coalition governments.  But in nearly every other case, FPTP is an inherently flawed system.

2013 Iranian Presidential Election Analysis

Well, one of the world’s most unpredictable and potentially meaningless elections has now produced an unpredictable and potentially meaningless result.  Hassan Rouhani is the new President of Iran (or will be upon inauguration in August), having won 50.71% of the vote and therefore avoided the need for a run-off election.  I won’t dignify the results with one of my Excel Tables, but there are points worth discussing.

Firstly, out of the 6 candidates vetted for election, Rouhani is certainly the most promising.   I don’t think he could be described as a reformist but he is a moderate on many issues.  While his attitude towards significant issues like domestic human rights and the Syrian conflict are not likely to be much different to what has come before, there might be a shift in Iran’s willingness to negotiate over its nuclear ambitions.  Rouhani has experience as a nuclear negotiator and does support seeking an end to Iran’s isolation.  He has received a Western education, having studied at Glasgow Calledonian University before the 1979 revolution, which will hopefully have given him a better understanding of Western culture and value, and perhaps have exposed him to Liberal ideas.  He has also been (respectfully) critical of the Iranian government in the past and apparently supported the 2009 protests.  What he does or does not believe may be irrelevant, but having a high-profile figure with moderate views in such a fundamentalist government certainly won’t hurt.

The main thing I noticed was how decisive an election this was.  While I believe Rouhani does genuinely have the support of the Iranian people, I can’t help wondering whether it was always Supreme Leader Khamenei’s intention to finish the election after one round.  I’m not sure whether his powers extend that far, but avoiding a second round would reduce the chances of a ‘spark’ occurring which could create more mass unrest.  Rouhani has a lead of over 30 percentage points – though this could be due to the vote being divided among the Conservative candidates.  The reason I question the extent of Khamenei’s power is that, of all the candidates, I don’t think Rouhani would be his preferred President.

Overall, this isn’t really an election which can be analysed.  As political theorist Ian Bremmer put it: “If the Iranian President actually had power, these elections would have been a game changer in the Middle East.”  Significant, but also not very significant at the same time.

Related articles:

2013 Iranian Presidential Election Predictions

The first round of Iran’s presidential election will be held on Friday.  Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a controversial time in office, particularly after his re-election in 2009 which I shall discuss in a moment.  His presidency has raised some questions over the extent of Iran’s president’s power.  He has precided over a period of increasing isolation for Iran as pressure, largely in the form of sanctions, mounts over the country’s nuclear program – it is also now more unpopular than ever.  A regional cold war has developed between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, against the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the USA + its allies.  These tensions are now factoring in the Syrian Civil War, which has developed into something of a proxy war between competing interests.  Ahmadinejad is forbidden from serving more than two terms and so a new President shall be chosen.  Whoever this will be certainly has a lot on their plate.

In order to discuss the presidential election, it’s important to look at how Iran’s political system actually works.  The Western image of Iran is this bizarre, antiquated dictatorship and, while it often acts in this way, does have constitutional democratic elements.  Unlike Communist or dictatorial governments, which use elections to create the illusion of public legitimacy, I believe Iran’s system is designed to have a fairly elected president and parliament.  I haven’t studied Iran in detail, but that’s how it comes across.  The trouble is, as a theocracy, the ultimate authority in Iran is God.  Because consulting God poses a challenge, it is necessary to base laws on religious scriptures – the Quran, generally – and also the traditions of Shia Islam.  Interpreting these rules is the role of the Supreme Leader and his Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts.  As the name suggests, the Supreme Leader (currently Ali Khamenei) has supreme power over the judiciary, the armed forces, foreign policy, etc.  This leaves the role of the president unclear.  It’s incredibly complicated, but this BBC page helps make it a bit simpler.

In theory, the system should allow the population of Iran to democratically elect leaders to govern day-to-day issues that are not the concern of the Supreme Leader.  Yet, clearly, this is often not the case.  In 2009 Ahmadinejad was elected president in favour of the more reformist candidate Mousavi.  Many people believe Mousavi to have been the rightful winner and accuse the government of rigging the vote.  There were mass protests across Iran in response, and it did momentarily look as though the regime was in danger.  Yet, the government survived – mostly through using brute force to suppress the protests. It is clear that while there may be an element of democracy in Iran’s political system, it is in a manner tightly controlled by the Supreme Leader who will manipulate results if he does not believe them to be in the country’s interests.

I don’t believe the protests of 2009 will be repeated this year.  Another challenge to the regime would be nice, and the conditions of economic frustration which is common in most uprisings does certainly exist (though the anger quite successfully deflected towards the West, it would seem), I think careful planning will have gone into the election to ensure it produces the desired result.  The majority of accepted candidates are Conservatives, with the exception of the moderate Rouhani and reformist Aref, who dropped out yesterday to improve the chances of Rouhani.  Six candidates remain: five Conservatives and Rouhani.  Naturally, I am hoping Rouhani will win but I don’t think it would make much difference if he did.  If a candidate posed a serious threat to the status quo I don’t think they would not be allowed to stand after the events of 2009 – that Mousavi is currently under house arrest makes this clear.  Perhaps the results have already been decided.  It is impossible to say.

These are difficult times for Iran.  Anything could happen.  Even an unlikely reformist could be convinced that reform is necessary; look at Gorbachev in the Soviet Union or de Klerk in South Africa.  But, of course, the ultimate authority rests with the Supreme Leader, who currently seems determined for things to remain the way they are.

For an alternative look at Iran’s election, check out this unofficial candidate.