I just finished reading through a bombshell scientific survey conducted by the Iran Institute for Democracy to gauge public opinion in the country. It’s the only one of its kind out there that is so thorough and well-done that it is truly a must-read. For the complete executive summary, click here (corrected: this summary is from 2002, the summary for the latest hasn’t been released yet). Here’s the press release with much of the relevant information.
A recent public opinion survey of Iranians, conducted by The Tarrance Group, surprisingly found that a vast majority (74%) of Iranians feel America’s presence in the Middle East will increase the probability of democracy in their own country. The survey, which was the first of its kind, found two-thirds of Iranians believe that regime change in Iraq has been a positive for both neighboring countries: with 66% believing that it served Iran’s national interests, while 65% believed the Iraqi people will, in the long-run, be better off.
Commissioned by the Iran Institute for Democracy, the survey discovered that a solid majority (65%) of Iranian adults consider fundamental change in Iran’s system of government, especially its Constitution, a must to bring freedom and more opportunities to their homeland.
Validating reports of widespread discontent with the clerical regime, three-fourths of Iranians (73%) support the call for a national referendum through which Iranians are given a chance to choose the form of government of their choice. Significantly, almost all Iranians reject their government’s attempts to keep exiled Iranians out of the political and economic equation of Iran. Fully 84% of all Iranians say Iranians living abroad should have a role in shaping the political and economic future of their homeland.
Regarding the forthcoming Presidential elections, in a troubling sign for the regime, nearly four of every five Iranians (79%) say that the upcoming elections should not be held unless they are free, fair and transparent.
While more than 70% of Iranians feel the world is closely monitoring the June 17 election process, in a telling sign, 57% of the population would be inclined to support a boycott of the elections if conditions for a free, fair and transparent election are not met.
Demonstrating disinterest in the pool of candidates, only 39% of adults were able to choose a candidate representing their viewpoint, with Hashemi Rafsanjani only leading (32%) among those who could identify with a candidate. Hence, Mr. Rafsanjani only enjoys 13% support among all Iranians, including those who could not identify an acceptable candidate. That said, when asked to make a prediction, 42% of all surveyed predicted Rafsanjani would be declared the winner of elections, indicating a perception of a predetermined conclusion.
On the nuclear issue, a solid majority of surveyed respondents inside Iran (60%) feel that the international community’s worry about the prospects of terrorists obtaining weapons of mass destruction is real. Further, a plurality (42%) says the Islamic Republic gaining access to nuclear weapons would add to their anxiety, discomfort and inability to sleep comfortably at night, while only 37% say it would not burden their peace of mind.
Commissioned by the Iran Institute for Democracy, the survey was conducted among N=758 adults age 16+ (voting age) in Iran, from May 26 through June 4, 2005. Sample design, questionnaire design, and data processing were conducted by The Tarrance Group. Random digit dialing (RDD) was used to generate the sample, and interviews were conducted via telephone from a call center in the United States using Farsi-speaking interviewers. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size of +/- 3.6%, at the 95% confidence level. The average interview length was 24.6 minutes.
The bloated state-controlled economy has resulted in real unemployment estimated to be around 20%, with an unrestive half of the population being under the age of twenty-five; many of whom are intelligent, forward-thinking university students. Official inflation is 15.5%, though the prices of basic commodities like vegetables have skyrocketed to near double their original prices in recent months. Those voicing opposition to the regime face police brutality, detainment, and torture. The Iranian people don’t want that; they never did.
When Khatami was elected to the presidency in 1997, change was in the air. He won a landslide victory and it was thought at the time that he would bring reform to the rigid Islamic Republic. But the real power of Iran is in the hands of the unelected clergy, who can veto unopposed the proposals of the elected leader — not that many were presented. Perhaps Ayatollah Khamenei’s title of “Supreme Leader” gave it away. It remains, however, that the people of Iran have been promised reform for years with no deliver. Stuck with an unelected and unaccountable government that won’t budge, the voting process has become completely irrelevant. Elections are opening and closing this time with an air of mass apathy.
Given the lack of run-up reporting by the media, it’s hard to believe that the presidential elections in Iran are taking place only six days from now. June 17 promises to be an historic event, but more than that, it promises to be an historic opportunity for the people of Iran to take their country back. And ironically, it would be from boycotting the ballot box.
Now, more than ever, the people of Iran are both pro-America and in favor of a free society based on democratic governance. They hate the regime incredibly, and the mullahs know it. The eventual victor doesn’t matter, as they have control the government, but they need a high turnout. If it’s low, or a huge percentage are blank ballots, it would mean an utter rejection of the entire system. According to another recent poll, it is possible that only 8% intend to vote, as most Iranians now know that their vote doesn’t matter. If this happens, the regime will be stuck between a population that doesn’t accept them and a free world working against them. Over 170 opposition leaders representing Iranian political groups around the world have signed a declaration pledging to throw their weight behind a complete boycott of the election.
The clerics are so desperate that they have begun telling people that voting is as important as praying.
Expect massive fraud. The U.S. government has already dismissed it as such, not needing to wait for a single vote to be cast. But we need to do more. We need to continue to lend the Iranians in greater amounts our moral support, continuing to let them know that when they rise up, the American people will stand with them as well. A free Iran, with a government accountable to the people, would be a huge stab into the hearts of dictators throughout the Middle East and Asia.
Most American policy-makers, however, seem to be more concerned with the development of an Iranian nuclear program. If there is one thing that the regime has been successful with, it has been convincing Iranians that the nuclear program is a national right. Therefore, even if the country undergoes regime change, it would be unlikely to give up its program. On the other hand, a democratic government that favors liberal ideas would likely scrap the uranium enrichment program and the whole “Death to America” platform. Support for terrorist groups like Hizb’allah and Hamas, isolating their activities and bolstering democratic progress in the region.
Just as the election in Iraq and Lebanon have been major turning points for the Middle East, this election in Iran may serve to throw the geopolitical situation into an entirely new direction. America, along with its allies in the free world, needs to seize this historic moment and lead the people of Iran away from tyranny. I believe they will follow.