The electors, even more than showing what they wanted, demonstrated in an undeniable fashion what they did not want. Paraphrasing Hegel’s famous definition of the meaning of negation, we can say that what was manifested was the “amazing power of the meaning of the negative”.
Before the elections no one, even those guarding the apparatus of the velayat, had any doubt of its outcome if people could be given the chance to express their wish. People would not let any opportunity go by to show their opposition to the system velayate faghih. It was no accident that the totalitarian faction did everything in their power, if it could not completely block this opportunity, to make it at least as difficult as possible. It was the same awareness that made a section of the regime’s reformist faction distance themselves as far as possible from the signs and totems of velayat, and to ignore some of its less costly prohibitions and taboos.
In all previous elections candidates vied with each other in pledging complete adherence to the “Imam line”  and total allegiance to the velayate faghih. In this election, however, the entire election discourse and campaign slogans had change. Freedom had replaced velayat and guardianship. Participation was the buzzword replacing obedience. Iran, rather than Islam, was given prominence. And significantly, the more candidates distanced themselves from the ruling value-systems the more attractive they became to voters. The faster anyone moved in the race to overstep forbidden barriers, the more prestige and votes came their way.
Unlike the 1998 presidential election, or the more recent municipal elections there were apparently no surprises in store. Yet, once again, the extent of the opposition to the velayat took everyone by surprise. A few features of the elections were particularly noteworthy:
One was the high turnout: over 70%. Even in normal circumstances this figure would be high, not least for a semi-traditional country under a despotic government whose people are intensely disgruntled with it. This is a people who not only loath the velayate faghih, but are also dissatisfied with some of Khatami’s actions and to a large extent disappointed with the reformists. The totalitarian faction had left no doubt that it wanted to discourage people from voting. They had in practice greatly reduced the hours of voting, raised the minimum voting age by a year to 16 – thereby disenfranchising two million young voters who were more likely to vote against them - and imposed a series of constraints on campaigning. Moreover, a significant section of those who oppose the regime still refuse to participate in elections.
The second key observation is the unequivocal clarity of the protest vote. None of those who pulled the largest votes was anywhere near the centres of power. The votes went to candidates who until two or three weeks before carried little political weight. Some, indeed were nobody. The only thing that distinguished them was to be identified with change. In contrast, someone like Hashemi Rafsanjani, who throughout the life of the Islamic Republic has been its number two man, was so humiliated that every pillar of the system shook. The rescue operation to pull his crushed body from the ruins of the elections continues to this date.
The third significant observation was the total paralysis of the apparatus of the velayat. They did everything to hunt for votes. Yet in many places they failed to get even those on their payroll to vote for their candidates. For example ex-intelligence minister Ali Fallahian got a mere 28,000 votes in Isfahan – a fraction of those on the direct payroll of the velayat apparatus in that city. In Mashhad, where the turnout was an astonishing 90%, the religious ruler could not even get one candidate elected despite the huge resources of one of Shia’s most holy shrines .
And the final observation is the decisive defeat of the reformists who tried to play in the centre ground. Both the Association of Militant Clergy  and Rafsanjani’s Agents of Reconstruction Party were given a drumming by the voters. Such leaders of the reformist clergy as Karrubi and Mohtashemi were humiliated. More than in the defeat of the totalitarian faction, it was in the defeat of this section of the reformists that the protesting nature of the popular vote was shown in all its transparency.
In reality, anyone who was identified in any way with the totems and sanctities of the regime did not escape a slap across the face. And conversely anyone who had clashed with the regime’s totems, for whatever reason, or was close to those who had, was rewarded.
Moving beyond the obvious, and the undeniable, some important questions need to be addressed, questions which no serious analysis of the Iranian scene can ignore:
The first is why the Council of Guardians, with its legal power to vet and exclude candidates, did not use them to stop voters significantly effecting the outcome of the elections. It is true that in addition to excluding everyone who opposed the regime, many prominent and time-tested members of the ruling cast were also excluded. Nevertheless, the Council of Guardians could have used its powers far more decisively such that, as in last year’s elections to the Assembly of Experts or in previous Majles elections, the reformist faction had no chance of a majority.
One possible answer might be their fear of a more violent reaction by the people. Seven months after the courageous rising by the country’s youth the nightmare of another large rising continues to give the regime sleepless nights. Even though no uprising of similar explicitness or extent has taken place since the July riots, its slogans have not been shelved. People still whisper: “while the mullah is lording it, the nation is begging”. [6
A second point: does the fact that people resorted to the electoral mechanism, so soon after such bold and direct street protests, indicate a disillusionment with direct action? Any discerning observer of the Iranian scene would realise that in today’s Iran direct mass action does not stand in contradistinction to “legal” popular acts. This is a symptom of the general crisis in Iranian society today. It is usually in normal and stable political conditions that the two forms of mass action stand in contradistinction. In conditions of general heightening of the mass movement the parallel use of different forms of mass participation is evidence of the richness and breadth of the popular movement.
And finally: what are the consequences of the elections? Clearly these cannot be less important than the elections themselves. The Majles has been taken out of the immediate control of the velayat apparatus. Yet in the Islamic Republic neither the Majles, nor indeed any other “elected” body, have any appreciable power in relation to the religious ruler or any of the branches of the system of velayate faghih. They cannot pursue any important decision without the latter’s approval. Moreover not even the most radical reformist tendencies now in parliament want to endanger the system as a whole under any circumstances.
Yet the very wrenching of the Majles from the clutches of the totalitarian faction, will have important consequences in pouring salt on the incurable wounds of the Islamic Republic and the spread of direct acts by the people. The reformist Majles majority, whether it chooses to turn its back on the vote of the people, or tries as far as it can to keep them optimistic of reforms within the system, cannot escape the sharp eye of the people who now want to stand on their own feet.
With the Majles elections over, the people now face the reformists within the regime directly. If we accept that the vote in last February’s election was a clear “no” to the velayate faghih, and even to any form of religious government, and if we recall that at the root of the reformist platform is nothing more than the “rule of law” then it becomes clear that the confrontation of the people and the official reformist has already begun.
The people have not yet set aside the defensive shield of the official reformists. But they no longer desire the “rule of law” which in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran, above all else is the existing constitution. The Majles elections was a revolt against this very constitution for which the velayate faghih and its apparatus is a vital pillar. Some believe that the constitution can be cleansed of this anomaly: remove the velayat and retain the republic. We have repeatedly argued that this is a chimera. The two pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran are inseparably intertwined. Remove one, and there is no reason for the “Islamic” republic to survive.
1. Article 5 of the Constitution which gives the religious ruler – currently occupied by Ali Khamenei - absolute control over both civil and political society: a power analogous to that of the caliphs.
2. Referring to Ayatollah Khomeini
3. The eighth Imam: Reza.
4. Majma’ rohaniun-e mobarez
5. Akhund khodai’ mikonad; mellat gedai’ mikonad
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