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Farideh Farhi: Despite voter anger in 2009, Iranians took to the polls in high numbers and strongly supported moderate candidates in initial results

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The Iranian presidential elections took place on Friday, and it’s likely that a victor will be announced this weekend.

Joining us here to discuss the latest related to the election is Farideh Farhi. Farideh is an independent scholar and affiliative graduate faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. She has taught comparative politics at many universities, including University of Colorado Boulder and University of Tehran. Her publications include States and Urban-Based Revolution in Iran and Nicaragua and many articles on comparative analyses of revolutions and Iranian politics.

Thanks for joining us, Farideh.


DESVARIEUX: So my first question is: we’re seeing large numbers of people come out and participate in this election. Is this at all surprising to you considering what happened in 2009, where people thought that their vote was stolen?

FARHI: It is certainly against expectation. Up to last week, I would say there was a general skepticism that there would be high numbers voting. I mean, there is always a bottom line in Iranian elections. People did think that up to 60 percent of the population would come and vote. But something major happened in terms of the public mood since last week as people began a conversation about whether to vote despite the fact that they were worried about the possibility of manipulation. And in this conversation, the way it looks, the people who were arguing that no matter what we have to vote and express our views apparently have won, or at least have been able to convince a good number of people. So the numbers that are coming out are not very clear, but it looks like, you know, the participation rates could be in the 70s, even high 70s or early 80s.

DESVARIEUX: And who are we seeing emerging as potential victors here?

FARHI: It is quite possible that the election would go to the second round. But the way it looks at this particular moment, the two people that might go to the second round are reformist centrist candidate Hassan Rouhani and then the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. If the numbers hold up in terms of participation rate, it is also possible that Mr. Rouhani might actually win in the second round. I mean, note that for winning in the second round you have to have 50 percent plus one. So that potential still exists, and there is a sense that it might be possible. But if not, those two candidates will go to the second round and there will be another round of vote-taking next Friday.

DESVARIEUX: They’re both centrist candidates. Why is that significant? And how did it happen that two centrist candidates emerged as being at the forefront here in this election?

FARHI: Mr. Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, is actually running as a conservative. However, within the spectrum of conservatives he is more towards the center, because you have more hardline candidates running. So he’s not actually–cannot be really considered a centrist. But within the scheme of things, in relationship to other candidates, he’s more towards the center.

The more interesting dynamic relates to what we consider the center reformist candidate, Mr. Hassan Rouhani. He entered the election as a centrist, as an independent candidate. He did not identify himself as a reformist. There was another candidate who explicitly identified himself as a reformist, and neither of those candidates were given much chance to do well in the election ’cause they were not very well known outside the capital city of Tehran and in general. However, through a series of negotiations between the leaders of centrist parties, as well as reformist parties, the reformist candidate who was thought to not have as good a chance was convinced to leave the election, abandon his quest, and essentially throw his vote for the centrist independent, Mr. Rouhani.

And that dynamic created the kind of buzz that we talked about before. It essentially gave a whole lot of population an idea that it is possible for a centrist and reformist candidate with the backing of two former presidents–President Khatami and President Rafsanjani–to win this election. And I think it is that dynamic and the potential that there is a real choice, the reality that there is a real choice, and in this election, because of the backing of those two presidents, we may not be seeing the kind of manipulation that we’ve seen in 2009 that has made people excited in this election.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about the climate there in Tehran and what you’re hearing specifically related to the economic conditions? I know the IAEA just recently reported that oil exports out of Iran are up 66 percent. That sort of seems to conflict a little bit with our understanding of the sanctions that are being imposed on Iran. Can you talk a little bit about the economic conditions there?

FARHI: The sanctions regime is really hurting the Iranian economy. It is true that the numbers are a little bit higher, but, you know, the bottom line is that it’s not really Iran’s oil exports that have been limited. It is that the Iranian economy has been under a ferocious financial sanctions regime. That is to say, even if Iranians can export their oil, it’s not guaranteed that they can get dollars for what they are selling because of these financial sanctions. Iranians’ central bank is sanctioned not only by United States, but also by European powers, and any country that tries to deal with Iran is heavily reprimanded by these great powers. So it is in that sense that you could make an argument that Iran’s economy’s really reeling.

But then there is also the question of bad management of the Iranian economy and the fact that the current president, Ahmadinejad, has not been able to manage the sanctions regime. So, much of the debates that were going on inside Iran during the presidential election had a lot to do with the fact that the current president has not been a good manager. So, for instance, the mayor of Tehran, Mr. Ghalibaf, is running on a platform that he’s a good manager, and in fact he has a very good record in the city of Tehran. And that is why he may do well in the city of Tehran.

So it’s both a bad situation because of the sanctions regime and also the belief on the part of [incompr.] population, as well as elite circles in Iran, that the sanctions regime has not been managed well. And that is why economy is at the center stage.

But connected to that is also the argument that in foreign policy Iran should also reconsider and try to approach outside powers in a more reconciliatory manner in order to loosen the sanctions regime. So the question of sanctions are relevant. They are not totally at center stage, because economy is, but they are very much connected to the issue of economy.

DESVARIEUX: Thank you for joining us, Farideh.

FARHI: Oh, it was my pleasure.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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