I boycotted the Iranian presidential elections for the simple reason that the candidates whom I supported last time were imprisoned -- their supporters were killed, jailed or forced into exile. The 2009 presidential election was widely believed to have been rigged. Those who poured out into the street protesting the results were brutally suppressed. It seemed to me a betrayal of them to vote again in a system that was anything but democratic and used voting as a legitimizing tool for a Mafioso theocratic regime and the real ruler of the country, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
The least bad candidate, the moderate, cleric Hassan Rouhani won the election to even his constituents' surprise. Most people thought that, like Mousavi before him, he would not be allowed to win. I, like many other 'hardened by interrupted hope' Iranians, still don't believe that Khamenei has, all of a sudden, decided to listen to the wish of the majority who want change in Iran.
Questioning why Rouhani won or was allowed to win comes naturally to any observer of Iran. If only four years ago the regime went to such lengths to rig the elections, if they went as far as to disqualify two prominent former presidents in the vetting process, then why would they, namely Khamenei, allow a win by a candidate who had the full support of the reformists who revolted four years ago?
The reasons for Khamenei allowing a Rouhani win are many. The sanctions have put a real squeeze on the economy, the people, and the regime itself. Some believe that allowing Rouhani to win makes it easier and more face-saving for the Leader to bite the bullet, or 'drink the poison' as Iranians like to say, and agree to a deal with the West over the nuclear issue. Even if he does not want to make a deal with the West he may want to buy time and divert the people from the problem of looming economic doom and further international isolation. Others believe that it was a grand masterful orchestration, to fool Iranians into hoping, and to put on a show for the world, that Iran may be changing, in order to buy time to reach the sacred goal of nuclear capability or weapons. There are also, some who believe that the infighting within the regime has reached such levels that many cracks have appeared and Rouhani has fallen blissfully through one of these cracks! I even heard the claim that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had the ministry of interior count the votes this time around as revenge for his minion, Rahim Mashai, not passing the vetting process.
Whatever the reasons and impact of Rouhani's election, it shows that, despite all the nay-saying, the sanctions are working, they have made the Leader concede to the moderates on the domestic front and have brought us closer to a nuclear deal than ever.
Many, even those who, like me, wanted a boycott, are happy about the turn of events. After all, it is great to see the streets of Tehran, Mashhad and Shiraz filled with people celebrating and chanting slogans from four years ago, asking for the freedom of political prisoners, even letting go of their head scarves: happy, hopeful and energized. The people may have, once again, hijacked the campaign of a vetted candidate and turned it into a velvet revolution of sorts. These people, while not sure about the weight of Rouhani's promises of more civil liberties and better foreign policy, still see this opening as an opportunity to push for change. In the context of the suffocating political atmosphere of the Islamic Republic any space to vent is welcomed and seen as an opportunity. Iranians are pragmatic, they don't like risking life and limb for their ideals, but they don't mind coming out, dancing and chanting their heart out when they know nothing will happen to them.
Having grown up on false revolutionary promises, my first betrayal being at eighteen, when they forced hijab on women, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, I was shocked and even saddened to see that once again the people had fallen for a regime crony who said one thing and but was sure to deliver another. I believe that the integrity of the vote is derogated when we use it lightly to vote for a choice that is not truly ours in a system that uses our act as a legitimizing tool.
After watching Rouhani's speech, even this tired Iranian exile, can't help but feel happy. Not because I have changed my stance on voting. Not because I allow myself to believe that Rouhani can actually change anything. I am happy because the Rouhani victory proves two certainties I have always held. One, that the previous election was truly rigged, because this clear, large-margined victory was achieved by the votes from the same constituency. Two, and I owe this insight to my friend Zohreh Rogers, if you listen to the clip the cheers reach an obvious crescendo, a real distinct loudness, whenever he mentions gender equality and hints at choice in hejab. Those girls, who are cheering louder than all the men, not the candidate that neither I nor they trust, make me feel like the proud mother that I am! I am happy that, at least, we still want the same kind of change. I fear another disappointment but I will let their youth carry me at least for a few days.