February 15, 2005

lgf: Referndum in Iran

Sounds like a great idea; pressure Iran to hold a national referendum or plebiscite on the Iranian Republic or something similar. Pressure hard, pressure constantly, include it in every future high-level diplomatic meeting. Use the stick of world opinion and disapproval; use the carrot of trade agreements and aid workers. Word it to ask if they want an Islamic Republic or if they want controlled elections or simply ask if they want a new constitutional convention to change things. I prefer the latter because it's more likely to win support of the various groups and doesn't tie down anything. More importantly, it gives the next government a claim to legitimacy on the results of the referndum - so there'd already be momentum for the reformists.

Worst-case scenario: the referendum is held and the results give a fairly strong victory (at least 55 to 60 percent) to the current Iranian constitution. In this case, then at least the concept that government is beholden to the people is strengthened. This will still be a step forward for the democrats and reformers, but it will look like a step backwards to analysts at first. Ultimately, it helps subjugate the IRI to further electoral standards.

Alternative scenario: the Islamic Republic turns down the idea of a referendum and gives greater ammunition to the reformists to argue that change needs to happen. It makes Iran look afraid and unaccountable. It also gives a fairly large event for diplomats and academics to stress in any conversation on Iran. Eventually it would probably hold a referendum.

Best-case scenario: the referendum succeeds with a 20 or 30 point margin and a new constitutional convention is created. It would have to be closely monitored during the selection process to assure that the mullah influence was not excessive and that dissidents and reformers had a substantial voice in the proceedings.

As long as free and fair elections are assured, without the undue influence of the mullahs on candidate eligibility, then the move is largely a success. The only other major benchmark is reforming the Guardian Council (sort of an Islamic Supreme Court) so that they couldn't exert their current level of control. If the Guardians stayed in place then they could change or block anything the newly elected Majlis (Parliament) passed. So that's it - openly contested elections and major reform of the Guardian Council. Those are the most important things. And frankly, since the Guardian Council is responsible for invalidating candidates for elections (on the basis of reformist viewpoints) it's really the Guardian Council that's the lion's share of the legal obstacles.

Referendum in Iran; revolution without a shot fired.


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