Of the voices on the American political left that I've read, only Juan Cole at Informed Comment seemed to provide a reasoned explanation for why Ahmadinejad "stole" the election. However, James Petras, in this essay at GlobalResearch.ca, discusses why Cole's argument regarding ethnic and linguistic identity is not a sound indicator of voting behavior.
What many on the left fail to grasp is that so-called reform movements like Mousavi's are made up mostly of the urban elites, people like themselves. However, the more conservative voters, like in America, tend to come from rural areas. Petras brings up several examples of elections that went strongly in favor of populist/nationalist politicians (Juan Peron of Argentina, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Lula da Silva of Brazil); to which I would add Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand, whose Thai Rak Thai party ("Thai Loves Thai") was also mostly supported by the rural poor in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
I think a lot of people on the left underestimate the electoral power of the rural poor, especially in countries that are still developing economically. While the needs and aspirations of the urban elite may be similar from country to country, even in nations as dissimilar as Iran and the US, the needs and aspirations of the rural poor are much stronger and more acute in countries like Thailand and Iran than in the prosperous US, where the red states can afford financially to vote against their economic interests in favor of social values.
I've written an additional comment below the following excerpts:
There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite. In the most recent period, the White House and its camp followers cried foul following the free (and monitored) elections in Venezuela and Gaza, while joyously fabricating an ‘electoral success’ in Lebanon despite the fact that the Hezbollah-led coalition received over 53% of the vote.
The recently concluded, June 12, 2009 elections in Iran are a classic case: The incumbent nationalist-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) received 63.3% of the vote (or 24.5 million votes), while the leading Western-backed liberal opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi (HM) received 34.2% or (13.2 million votes).
Iran’s presidential election drew a record turnout of more than 80% of the electorate, including an unprecedented overseas vote of 234,812, in which HM won 111,792 to MA’s 78,300. The opposition led by HM did not accept their defeat and organized a series of mass demonstrations that turned violent, resulting in the burning and destruction of automobiles, banks, public buildings and armed confrontations with the police and other authorities.
A number of newspaper pundits, including Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, claim as evidence of electoral fraud the fact that Ahmadinejad won 63% of the vote in an Azeri-speaking province against his opponent, Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri. The simplistic assumption is that ethnic identity or belonging to a linguistic group is the only possible explanation of voting behavior rather than other social or class interests.
A closer look at the voting pattern in the East-Azerbaijan region of Iran reveals that Mousavi won only in the city of Shabestar among the upper and the middle classes (and only by a small margin), whereas he was soundly defeated in the larger rural areas, where the re-distributive policies of the Ahmadinejad government had helped the ethnic Azeris write off debt, obtain cheap credits and easy loans for the farmers. Mousavi did win in the West-Azerbaijan region, using his ethnic ties to win over the urban voters. In the highly populated Tehran province, Mousavi beat Ahmadinejad in the urban centers of Tehran and Shemiranat by gaining the vote of the middle and upper class districts, whereas he lost badly in the adjoining working class suburbs, small towns and rural areas.
The careless and distorted emphasis on ‘ethnic voting’ cited by writers from the Financial Times and New York Times to justify calling Ahmadinejad ‘s victory a ‘stolen vote’ is matched by the media’s willful and deliberate refusal to acknowledge a rigorous nationwide public opinion poll conducted by two US experts just three weeks before the vote, which showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – even larger than his electoral victory on June 12. This poll revealed that among ethnic Azeris, Ahmadinejad was favored by a 2 to 1 margin over Mousavi, demonstrating how class interests represented by one candidate can overcome the ethnic identity of the other candidate (Washington Post June 15, 2009). The poll also demonstrated how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than ‘generational life style’. According to this poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds “comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups” (Washington Post June 15, 2009).
The only group, which consistently favored Mousavi, was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The ‘youth vote’, which the Western media praised as ‘pro-reformist’, was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media. Their overwhelming presence in the Western news reports created what has been referred to as the ‘North Tehran Syndrome’, for the comfortable upper class enclave from which many of these students come. While they may be articulate, well dressed and fluent in English, they were soundly out-voted in the secrecy of the ballot box.
In general, Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may have be a reflection of the oil workers’ opposition to the ‘reformist’ program, which included proposals to ‘privatize’ public enterprises. Likewise, the incumbent did very well along the border provinces because of his emphasis on strengthening national security from US and Israeli threats in light of an escalation of US-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan and Israeli-backed incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan, which have killed scores of Iranian citizens. Sponsorship and massive funding of the groups behind these attacks is an official policy of the US from the Bush Administration, which has not been repudiated by President Obama; in fact it has escalated in the lead-up to the elections.
What Western commentators and their Iranian protégés have ignored is the powerful impact which the devastating US wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had on Iranian public opinion: Ahmadinejad’s strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition.
The great majority of voters for the incumbent probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country and the social welfare system, with all of its faults and excesses, could be better defended and improved with Ahmadinejad than with upper-class technocrats supported by Western-oriented privileged youth who prize individual life styles over community values and solidarity.
Amhadinejad’s electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and even Lula da Silva in Brazil, all of whom have demonstrated an ability to secure close to or even greater than 60% of the vote in free elections. The voting majorities in these countries prefer social welfare over unrestrained markets, national security over alignments with military empires.
The wild card in the aftermath of the elections is the Israeli response: Netanyahu has signaled to his American Zionist followers that they should use the hoax of ‘electoral fraud’ to exert maximum pressure on the Obama regime to end all plans to meet with the newly re-elected Ahmadinejad regime.
Paradoxically, US commentators (left, right and center) who bought into the electoral fraud hoax are inadvertently providing Netanyahu and his American followers with the arguments and fabrications: Where they see religious wars, we see class wars; where they see electoral fraud, we see imperial destabilization.
I also wanted to say that President Obama has done the right thing by not getting involved as the Iranians settle their electoral results. The Republicans, such as John McCain, who have tried to goad Obama into interfering with Iranian politics, have shown a tremendous amount of arrogance and hypocrisy on their part. If another country were to interfere with the American electoral process, they would be rightly indignant. Why they think they can interfere with another country's election is beyond me. Shut up, John!