Sanctions and the Election
The US added new sanctions against Iran a couple of weeks before Iranians chose a new president. The new round of sanctions targeted the rial, making it more likely to directly effect the ordinary person than the other sanctions.
I can’t help but wonder, were these new sanctions designed to sway public opinion? We’re they successful?
Will Iran’s Election Results Bring Change?
According to The New York Times, Cleric Hasan Rowhani won the Iranian presidential election. Rowhani was considered the most moderate candidate in the race. An interesting result and one and that should be looked upon with caution as well as optimism. Reportedly, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that “A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system.” In other words, a vote for any candidate is a vote for the status quo. Khamenei could confidently state this because as the AP reports:
“The ruling clerics barred from the race reform candidates seen as too prominent, allowing a list of hopefuls who were mainly staunch loyalists of the supreme leader and the Islamic establishment. But the opposition settled on the 64-year-old Rowhani as the least objectionable of the bunch, making him a de facto reform candidate with backers inspired by his message of outreach rather than confrontation.”
Because the clerics groomed the field of candidates they assured themselves a candidate that we at least acceptable if not preferred. This is not to say that Rowhani was chosen, several days ago the Los Angeles Times reported that Saeed Jalili, Iran’s hardline nuclear negotiator was the presumed front runner.
While Rowhani was an ‘approved’ candidate, he has given many liberals hope that they will have more of a voice in the theocracy. Additionally, Reuters tells that some in the Arab world are slightly hopeful that Rowhani ‘s election will bring change.
“Hassan Rohani, a Shi‘ite cleric known for a conciliatory approach and backed by reformists, will have only limited say in policy determined by Iran’s supreme leader; but with the Syrian carnage fuelling rage among Sunni Arabs across the region, any gestures from Tehran may help contain it.”
What the future will bring for Iran is difficult to say. Rowhani may try to seize on the energy that his election created among liberals and reform minded moderates and bring substantive change. As the article by The New York Times points out, Rowhani was popular because he has taken many moderate positions, has been outspoken against police violence, and supports women’s rights. However, it should be remembered that when President Ahmadinejad challenged the clerics and tried to consolidate more power into the presidency* he lost the Council’s approval and (after a power struggle) was marginalized and forbidden from running for a third term. Will Rowhani be successful in bringing change? Only time can tell but any optimism should be guarded by a healthy dose of caution.
*Ahmadinejad’s challenge to the clerics was more of a personal power play, however, since the presidency is an elected position it would have also made Iran somewhat more democratic by vesting more power in an elected official.
Image via Wikipedia.
“Iran Moderate Wins Presidential Election,” Matt Cantor, Newser.
“Iran Moderate Wins Presidency By Large Margin,” Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times.
“Moderate cleric wins Iran’s presidential vote,” Ali Akbar Dareini and Brian Murphy, Associated Press.
“Arabs put (slim) hopes in new Iranian president,” Alastair Macdonald and Angus McDowall, Reuters.
“Obama Announces New Sanctions on Iran,” Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This
The dichotomy between voters’ opinion of their own congress person and congress as a whole supports the notion that, perhaps, the system is rigged.
We have an electoral system that provides little incentive for politicians to do a good job as long as they are good at campaigning. As a result we have leaders who do not perform well but who are very good at convincing people that they do.
The political system is in many ways designed to help the incumbent get elected. Congress gives its members resources (money, free commercials and other media) that are used to promote the incumbents. Congress people, once in Washington, have access to institutional support from lobbyists, and special interest groups. Connections to these groups are used to raise huge sums of cash which are then used to advertise, and promote the incumbent candidate. In addition to financial aid these lobbyist groups also provide organizational support.
The effect of these insider connections has been magnified by Citizens United which allows super PACs to funnel massive amounts of money to their candidate of choice. As a result the incumbent (in congressional races) almost always out raises his/her challenger (by a wide margin).
The size of congressional districts have become enormous. (Congress controls the size of districts by the way). The huge size of districts requires candidates to raise large amounts of money to compete. This raises the barrier of entry for challengers. In addition to being over sized, congressional districts have been thoroughly gerrymandered to create a large number of seats that are uncompetitive and “safe.”
These are just some of the ways the electoral system favors the incumbent. Incumbents control large amounts of resources that are then used to advertise and try to convince voters that they are not the problem: it is everyone else. And it works.
Challengers cannot compete with this.
In many ways congress men and women use their offices as tools to get themselves re-elected. We have a system that produces leaders who are good at getting themselves re-elected, but really bad at governing.
We deserve better than this.
Should I Even Bother Voting?
According to Gallup, Congress’ approval rating is at 17% (as of June ‘12). This is not a new trend. In 2010, Congress’ approval rating was 13%. Yet, despite this consistent disapproval of Congress, its members continually get re-elected extremely high rates. In 2010 when Congress’ approval rating was a mere 13%, 85% of the members of Congress were re-elected. And this was considered low! The re-election rate is usually in the 90’s.
Why would 85% of a congress with an approval rating of 13% get re-elected?
Either, people really, really, like their own congress person, or the system is rigged.