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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Polish Ghost Border

This map, which I discovered the other day, shows the results of the 2007 Polish parliamentary election superimposed with the borders of the German Empire (1871 – 1918).  Study this for a moment.

I was blown away when I first saw this, and couldn’t believe it to be true.  But it is.  The results for the 2011 parliamentary election show a similar divide.  My first thought towards a reason was on ethnic grounds – perhaps a less concentrated Polish population in the West is a reason for the support of different parties?  But considering the ethnic turmoil and change Poland has experienced in the last century, particularly during the Second World War, I can’t imagine ethnicity alone could create anything near this clear a divide.

The division is between the Civic Platform (Liberal, pro-Europe) in the West and the Law and Justice Party (Conservative, Eurosceptic) in the East.  Perhaps the Western territory’s potential historic links with Germany have given it closer connections to Europe, and it’s therefore more likely to vote for a pro-Europe party, than the West, which might align itself more closely to Russia?

I did some research, and one proposed theory is that of economic differences.  When the Western territories were part of first Brandenburg, then Prussia and then eventually Germany, it was an industrial heartland of the current Empire.  Generally controlled by nations fearing their more powerful neighbours, its successive controllers will have put an emphasis on military and industrial expansion.  In contrast, the areas to the East, controlled by Russia and Austria, had well developed industries and militaries in their respective heartlands and consequently focused their Polish territories on agricultural output.  Such vast differences in industry and infrastructure would take longer than a century to subside, especially considering the economic stagnation Poland would have experienced during Communist rule.

This map of the Polish rail network also roughly aligns to the borders of the German Empire, which seems to back up the industrial differences argument.

The idea of ‘ghost borders’ certainly is a fascinating one.  There must be many examples outside of voting behaviour, but another clear example I can think of is the north-south divide in the USA which often aligns well with the borders of the Confederate States during the civil war.