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.

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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.

Tuition Fees (And Why I Love the Scottish Government)

I just want to make a brief post in which I gush at how grateful I am towards the policies of the current Scottish National Party administration within the Scottish government which allow students studying for their first degree to be excempt from paying tuition fees.  Yesterday I received a letter from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland in which they promised to pay the roughly £1,800 yearly fee to study at Edinburgh University.  I have to apply again each year, but over the course of four years this will have saved me £7,200.  And the fee of £1,800 is incredibly modest! (I can’t help wondering how much a student from south would have to pay).

Compare this to the system in England and Wales: yearly tuition fees which can be up to £9,000 a year, after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition as Westminster introduced them a couple of years ago.  Over a standard three-year course (it’s generally four years in Scotland) this would leave many students up to £27,000 in debt.  It’s abhorrent, and I deeply pity everyone subject to this hopefully temporary measure.  I can understand why the Scottish government has decided to make tuition fees apply to students from England and Wales – otherwise Scottish students would likely lose out as our universities would become understandably swamped – but I certainly wish there were another way.  It’s as if the young people of England and Wales are being punished for having the misfortune to have simply been born where they were. 

University is expensive.  As I’ll be moving to Edinburgh I will also have to worry about the costs of accommodation and also just the costs of living independently without a stable income.  I’m in the fortunate position of having some money available to me for university and I will never take this for granted, but I know so many other students will find it a financial struggle.  Abolishing tuition fees for a first degree massively reduces this struggle, therefore working to break down the class barrier and, within a generation, improving the skills of the population as a whole.

Related articles:

The First Fringe Opinion Poll

Because this blog has been too quiet recently (my Geography exam went well today – just RMPS left on Monday), and because I’ve just discovered the exciting poll feature on WordPress – and also to see if anyone actually reads my blogs – I’ve decided to do a quick opinion poll. Political, of course. I may start adding these to most posts I make, if it’s relevant – “What would you rate this book/film”, “What do you think about X and Y developments?” Oh, if anyone actually votes that would be incredibly exciting!

But, for now:

2013 UK Local Elections Analysis

A day or so late with this, but here are the results of Thursday’s local elections:
[PNS = Predicted National Share]

2013 local elections

The news has been reporting these elections as the final breakthrough of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) into British politics; BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson described it as “The day UKIP emerged as a real political force in the land.”  And when you look at the results, there is no denying how well the party has performed.  If every party had stood candidates in every council ward and the votes spread across the country evenly, UKIP is projected to have won 23% of the total vote.  That’s about the same the Liberal Democrats won in the 2010 General Election.  There is no denying Nigel Farage’s claims that UKIP “is here to stay.”  However, lets get these results into perspective.

There is always a party which wins a spectacularly large amount of votes during midterm elections for a government – often referred to as the “protest vote”.  This would normally be the Liberal Democrats, who in 2009 [the last time these seats were up for election] won 28% of the vote.  This went down by 5 percentage points for the following year’s general election, indicating that voting for council seats and voting for the next government are two very different things.  With the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Conservatives, and Labour still generally quite unpopular, UKIP have begun to vacuum up these disillusioned votes.

Secondly, there seats are generally recognised to be in very right-wing areas.  This is generally to the benefit of the Conservatives, but now have begun aiding UKIP.  Labour traditionally perform poorly in these seats, so the fact they are leading in the votes, even with only 29%, should not be played down.  These UKIP results, considering this and the protest factor, should be seen as the party’s maximum potential under its current level of popularity.  It’s looking very likely that UKIP will elect its first MPs in 2015, but how many?  Even if it does manage to attain a respectable percentage of the vote, it’s going to suffer from the same problem which has blighted the Liberals for decades: our First Past the Post electoral system.  Even for the local elections, despite UKIP achieving 9 percentage points more of the vote than the Liberal Democrats, they won 200 fewer seats.

Reactions to this result within the Conservative Party have ranged from Cameron’s calm resolve of winning back voters to blind panic and demands to hold an EU referendum before the next election.  My fear is that politicians of all parties will begin tripping over themselves to declare harsher and harsher immigration policies i an attempt to stem to flow of voters to UKIP – not something I would like to see.  However Labour, at least, has little to fear from UKIP.  I read a statistic earlier suggesting that Labour didn’t lose a single seat to UKIP, whereas the Conservatives must have lost at least a few good dozen.  Indeed, with Labour retaining David Miliband’s South Shields seat in the by-election and replacing the incumbent mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside with Labour candidates, this has been a good week for Ed Miliband.  At first glance UKIP would appear to be the true winners of these elections, but upon further inspection I would argue that this title goes to Labour.

(I am a little bit sad the Greens didn’t perform very well, but at least they managed to win a few more seats).