"Leaked Memo" on Iran's Election Revisited
On June 18th, I expressed open skepticism about a memo supposedly written by the Iranian Minister of Interior, Sadegh Mahsouli, and sent to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, providing the actual results on votes cast in the recent presidential election in Iran. My suspicions were based partly on a pre-election poll conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, who told us in their Washington Post article, "The Iranian People Speak" (Monday, June 15, 2009), that Ahmadinejad was far ahead, and because of that poll, I conceded that the vast majority of Iranians may actually have voted to return this current, hardline president to power.
However, I asked for clarification from experts and received a response from an Iranian, one of my former political science students at Yonsei's Underwood International College, who openly questioned the official election results (though he did not express a decided opinion on the memo's authenticity). Also, a regular reader offered a link that questioned whether or not the opinion poll by Ballen and Doherty offered accurate predictions. Moreover, a recent opinion piece, "A Different Iranian Revolution," published in the New York Times (June 18, 2009) by a certain "Shane M.," a student in Iran who has adopted this very 'Western' pseudonym, argued that even if the opinion poll were accurate when it was taken, the percentages could well have shifted radically by the time of the recent election:
Let's also forget the polls, carried out in May by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, that have been making the rounds this past week, with numbers that showed Mr. Ahmadinejad well ahead in the election, even in Mr. Moussavi's hometown, Tabriz. Maybe last month Mr. Ahmadinejad was indeed on his way to victory. But then came the debates.These details -- offered by one who sounds as though he knows what he's writing about -- put the memo in a very different light. It may indeed be fake (as the usually politically astute JK insists), but it might also nevertheless offer analytical results calculated by some Iranian willing to put forward projections at to the 'real' details and deciding to publicize them in a way guaranteed to get attention.
Starting on June 1, the country was treated to an experience without precedent in the 30 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran: six back-to-back live and unscripted debates among the four presidential candidates. Iranians everywhere were riveted, and the poll numbers began to move.
By the Wednesday before the election, Mr. Moussavi was backed by about 44 percent of respondents, while Mr. Ahmadinejad was favored by around 38 percent. So let's not cloud the results with numbers that were, like bagels, stale a week later. (And let's ignore the claim that polling by Iranians in Iran is "notoriously untrustworthy." A consortium of pollsters and social scientists working for a diverse range of political and social organizations systematically measured public opinion for months before the election.)
Such a major shift has happened before. A month before the 1997 elections, the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, was trouncing his opponents in surveys. Then, a week before the vote, the tide changed, bringing to power a reformer, Mohammad Khatami.
The reason for this fluidity in voter preference is simple. Iran has no real political parties that can command a fixed number of predictable votes. With elections driven primarily by personality politics, Iranians are always swing voters. So Mr. Moussavi, hampered by a lack of access to state-run news media and allowed only two months to campaign, began to make inroads into Mr. Ahmadinejad's lead only during the final days leading into the election, his poll numbers rising with his visits to provincial cities and the debate appearances.
Or the memo may really be authentic.
I await more comments -- on the memo, the election, and the direction that events are taking us -- but I note in passing that if voter preference is so fluid and personality-based as "Shane" maintains, then perhaps nobody, not even the Iranians, can tell us where they are going (though this direction would be welcome).