Shocked by the shock

14 July 2005

Everyone seems shocked, and yet no one really should be. We all knew that the Iranian electorate is highly unpredictable; we knew that Iranian polls due to cultural reasons can not be treated as polls made in countries in which a culture of democracy has rooted, and we knew--though we so often forget--that 15-25 per cent of the Iranian population back the conservatives. Much like the conservative movement in the US, the Iranian conservatives are better organized since they have traditional Iranian institutions and networks at their disposal. And like their counterparts in the US, they vote in higher numbers and they are more disciplined voters.

The question is what the conclusion of the rest of the population will be by next Friday. If they feel disempowered, i.e. if they believe that the elections are rigged and that their vote won’t count, Rafsanjani won’t be able to capitalize on the pro-reform electorate, which would benefit Ahmadinejad. If, however, they conclude that Ahmadinejad benefited from the pro-reform electorate’s partial boycott of the vote, they may react by turning out in greater numbers next Friday in order to avoid having all the country’s institutions fall into the hands of the conservatives.

Friends and family members that I have spoken to in Tehran are split between these two camps. The question is what they will feel a week from now. Much can change till then.

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Emily Bell Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

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