Opinion: Boycott: Using the Real Source of Power

7 June 2005

As a liberal striving for democracy in Iran I support the boycott of the upcoming presidential elections in Iran, or at least conditional participation subject to boycott if conditions are not met.

Here are my general arguments for it:

1. Participation is only meaningful if one wants to do something positive, that is reform the law. This was tested by Khatami and shown to be impossible. The vote for Khatami could be justified because this approach had not been tested at the time and it seemed the most compelling path then — at least the first thing to attempt. Participation out of fear for how the situation could deter if Mr. Rafsanjani, Mr. Larijani or Mr. Qalibaf, etc. were elected, is passive, reactionary, hopeless and fruitless. It is a contradiction in terms. An effort in the wrong direction at the least.

2. The real issue is not whether or not Mr. Moeen becomes the President, but how he would exert his power. He wouldn't have any power in real terms: no control over the military, no real control over the economy. His only asset would be a shaken popular vote and he has to resort to that — which Khatami didn't do but his brother Reza Khatami, Mr. Moeen's running mate, promises to do (How serious he is about it is impossible to know, but he seems to be the most serious of all.) So, reformists will have to resort to nonviolent protests anyway if they are to achieve anything.

3. By (unconditional) participation in an unfair, undemocratic election, the reformists undermine the effectiveness of their future attempts at nonviolent protests. Legitimacy is indeed a big issue for an undemocratic system and the boycott can deny it to the system. It has to be consciously and publicly used to be effective though, not like the silent boycotts of the years after the crackdown on opposition parties during the war with Iraq. Moreover, setting popular demands as conditions (release of political prisoners and journalists, elimination of approbative supervision of the Guardian Council, etc.) reformists can gain their lost credit with their supporters.

4. The boycott strategy is/should be only the starting point of a popular nonviolent movement (noncooperation —> civil disobedience —> nonviolent protests) that will utilize the only real source of power for change in Iran. I guess this is Akbar Ganji's thesis. It has been employed successfully many times in many different settings: India's independence, Civil Rights Movement in the US, South Africa and in a way recently in former Soviet Republics.

By "Babak Seradjeh":http://freethoughts.org/

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