Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Iran: Elections and Political Apathy


Iran: Elections and Political Apathy

Ali Asghar Kazemi

May 7, 2009


Aristotle described man as “political animal” on the ground that human being is compelled to live in collectivities within the boundaries of a political system. But, people are by no means equally concerned with political life. In other words, some people are indifferent and others are more concerned with political matters. Among this latter group, only a few get deeply and passionately involved in pursuit of power.

In open societies with developed democratic institutions and popular governments, opportunities for political participation of citizens are available and people are encouraged to get actively involved in formulating their demands through parties and interest groups. On the contrary, in oligarchic societies, citizens tend to choose apathetic approach to political realm and become relatively inactive in deciding their socio-political fate.

Political apathy is usually regarded as a social malaise in developed societies. In countries where civil society is still lagging behind traditional and fatalistic customs, apathy is a way of life to avoid hazards of political stratum. In this case, it is merely a cure manifested as conscious decision to cope with authoritarianism, demagoguery and repression in societies where expressing political opinions and criticisms are considered beyond the realm of citizen rights.

Some writers trace this malaise within the attributes of political culture that are strengthened by the force of ideology and beliefs, and others prefer to put the blame on institutions and structures. Whatever the cause, political apathy in public or private spheres relates to some kind of indifference towards events entailing collective interests.

Iranians by nature are suspicious to politicians and political matters. This is mainly due to vicissitudes experienced in the Persians history. Iranians have learned that they should avoid standing on the way of the rulers as long as they hold power, since; they may become victim of a mischance and lose their heads. There is a dictum in Persian which says “Always avoid walking behind an ass and in front of the Sultan!” Of course the Sultan here represents the tyrant par excellence whose behavior is unpredictable.

True that Iranians were the first to launch a constitutional revolution in the Middle East almost a century ago. But, even then, they were guided by mere immature and sightless temptation than a conscious political calculation. As a result, few years later they were driven again into a new oligarchy not better than the old one. The 1979 revolution, which led to the emergence of a religious rule, failed to generate the necessary environment for the creation of a strong “civil society” needed for political development and related institutions. Foreign war, domestic crises, economic depression and other socio-political malaises are taken responsible for the deficiencies.

While political apathy is more or less common to all societies, its causes are different in developed and non-developed countries. In Iran, thirty years after the second revolution, people are still perplexed as how to behave and which way to go in the political life and whether they should get actively involved in the political stratum or just leave things to the fate and divine providence.

There are several fundamental reasons why various layers of society including intellectuals, academics and ordinary people might not get actively involved in the coming presidential elections in Iran. The following propositions may fit into one or more categories and layers of citizenry leading to political apathy:

· Some people believe that the president is not the key person to solve fundamental issues of the country;

· People don’t see much differences between candidates;

· People have not enough information about various candidates’ program;

· Some people think that they can’t elect their true candidate;

· Some people don’t think their participation is decisive in the elections;

· People don’t get the expected benefit from their involvement;

· People don’t have confidence on the integrity and reliability of the elections;

· Some people think that the outcome of the election will not change their condition;

· Some people believe whatever the outcome of the election their interests will be served;

· And finally some people are inherently indifferent to political matters.

Apart from numerous odd figures who usually register for fun, thus far, a number of serious candidates of the conservative and reformist groups have declared their intention to run for the office. They all claim to feel duty-bound to devote them-selves to the cause of the nation and Islam. They all pretend to fight corruption, to promote justice and well-being, to improve economic structure and to cope with galloping inflation. They all declare to be obedient and true follower of the supreme religious leader. Yet, once in office, they merely think of their interests and survival.

As stated in my previous comments, while reformists seems to have better chances to win the upcoming presidential elections, due to the horrendous failures of the incumbent conservative government in domestic and international affairs , it is faire to suggest that neither the conservative nor the reformist candidates or any other person in that capacity is powerful enough to make substantive changes in the structure or religious-revolutionary nature of the Islamic regime. They both pursue the same goals with different styles. They can merely act within a limited boundary determined to them either by law or by the authority of the leader. The difference is purely that of approach reflecting individual character, social background and philosophical outlook.

We shall wait and see who will come out of the ballot boxes simply for satisfying our curiosity. But, we should not expect a drastic change in the course and substance of the Islamic regime’s policies entailing most critical issues of our time. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi holds PhD. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass, USA. He is former Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science and professor of Law and International Relations at the IAU, Science and Research Center in Tehran, Iran. For detail see:

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