Referendum leader and former Revolutionary Guard founder Mohsen Sazegara spoke to an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy the other day about the upcoming Iranian elections. He said a recent unpublished poll he had seen had suggested that only something like 28% of eligible voters were planning to vote, but that the regime would try to suggest many more turned out. He said something like 70% of the people who previously voted for Khatami have become the most disillusioned and are the least likely to vote.
Of the referendum effort, Sazegara said that five days after putting up their petition at www.60000000.com the Iranian regime blocked the site from within Iran. Despite that, it has acquired some 37,000 signatures. He said some 565 politicans have signed a letter supporting the referendum and are now urging an elections boycott.
He says he thinks the Third Republic, of reform, is finished. Getting to the start of the 4th Republic is not possible according to this current Iranian constituion.
He thinks the referendum effort can help accelerate events, to give people hope, in the wake of the tremendous disappointment at what he described as the defeat of the reform movement.
He offered a detailed print out of which Iranian constituences and power organs were supporting which candidates, which is too much for me to try to recreate here. A questioner from the audience asked Mr. Sazegara, how can we help?
And Mr. Sazegara said, for the first time in history, the Iranian people are looking to the outside world for help. Astonishingly, he said, not only are they not against the US, but Americans are now very popular among ordinary Iranians.
We have a kind of political depression in Iran, he said. In order to gain the involvement of people in any sort of (pro-democracy) action, we need to overcome this depression, to give people hope back.
He said there is very clever propaganda by the Iranian regime. (I'm paraphrasing), but he suggests that the regime tries to signal to ordinary Iranians that the West, the US, is making a backroom deal with the current regime. That US oil interests for instance will drive the US administration to deal with this current Iranian regime. He mentioned Brezinski's paper proposing engagement being published by the regime in Iranian newspapers, and also mention of Halliburton's oil services contracts in Iran being highly publicized there.
Sazegara said the best thing the US can do is to give a clear and significant signal to the Iranian people, to convince the people, of its intentions (that it does not recognize or legitimate that regime). Bush should announce that the elections results will not be recognized, Sazegara said.
1. The US can say, we don't recognize the elections.
2. Human rights. US policy towards Iran should be driven by human rights. The prosecutor of Iran, Saeed Mortazavi, is responsible for closing 700 journals over the last five years... He is now accused in blocking the investigation into the murder of Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi. The US should support Canada's recent announcement that Iran must try or turn over the Iranian official responsible for the torture and murder of Zahra Kazemi. Sazegara said the US should say it supports Canadian government's demands...
3. [the US should insist that] Iran must stop supporting terrorism. This is an issue which can show the pepole of Iran that the people at the top of their government are doing terrible things in their names, which ordinary Iranians reject.
A committee should be formed to investigate (Iranian regime's role in supporting) terrorism in Lebanon, Israel, etc. In more than 300 assassinations of Iranian citizens. Then the Iranian people will understand there will not be any "deal" between Washington and this regime. [Sazegara criticized France's oil company Totale's large investment in Iranian oil projects and said that had proved incredibly discouraging to the Iranian people -- the total French seeming disregard for human rights in Iran and total willingness to profit from this regime.]
Sazegara's remarks should be available from WINEP next week and I will post the link then. openDemocracy itself featured a lengthy interview with Sazegara a few weeks back, available here.