February 28: A Cry for the End of the State-Sponsored Reforms*
The February 28  elections, with their thought-provoking results, were an event that can help clarify the situation of reforms in Iran. Analyzing what lead to the people's lack of participation in the elections can lay the groundwork for finding the right path to reforms and democracy in Iran. Those who have covered their heads and played deaf, those who still try to explain everything within the framework of the System, misinterpret the message that people sent to their officials through the February 28  elections. This can only be a bad indication. It will not be long before the ship they have punched holes in will sink in mud.
Despite all this, it looks like the steersmen of this ship feel themselves safe from this raging storm. Why else do they insist on their ways and not fear the dreadful reactions to their inappropriate deeds? The people of Iran had sent their alarming messages to the authorities in several previous elections, but in the two elections of February 28  and June 8  they directly addressed State-Sponsored Reformists and that part of the Opposition that, in the name of reform, had bought legitimacy to illegitimate authorities people had long been disappointed by. Consequently, the February 28 elections contain some subtle yet strong points that, if not decoded properly, will result in a huge disaster for the people, the country, and its steersmen.
February 28, the Nation's Loud Cry
Elections are the best way for the nation to relay its demands and messages to those who are occupying the seats of power. Iranians have voiced their messages and demands in different tunes since the 1997 elections--messages that could be understood even with a minimum intelligence.
On May 23 1997, people joined voices to protest the suffocating rule of the authoritarians and demanded the change and reform of their authoritarian ways in a peaceful manner. By voting for Mohammad Khatami, they brought to power that section of the ruling clergy that supported reforms based on democratic and humanistic principles, hoping to achieve their goals at least partially. They conveyed their support for this section in the first round of the Council elections and in the 6th Majlis (parliament) elections, demanding that State-Sponsored Reformists use this social support to actualize their plans and slogans. But in February 28 , people chose a different path and showed that they no longer saw their major obstacles in specific people or methods but in the general structures that block the road to reform. In their silence and lack of participation in the February 28  elections, people sneered at the reformist tendencies that placed their resources in the very limited capacities of parliament and at the will to reform that had gradually faded. However, it looks like the authorities are unable to understand the nation's meaningful silence. Indeed, how can they hear the powerful cry of the people in their silence when all they can see of the people is their presence or absence at the election polls and not their lost hopes and aspirations?
What lead the Authoritarians to consider the 4% vote of Tehran's citizens as a victory in the elections and as a confirmation of their popularity among the people was either their inability to hear the people's message or their acting as if they hadn't. Now the State-Sponsored Reformists seem to have contracted the same disease since they, too, seem to not have a thorough assessment of what the people want and what their votes indicate.
If they misinterpreted people's participation in the June  elections, how are they going to interpret their lack of participation and benefit from it?
The lack of participation of the majority of the people in Tehran and other major cities in the election, an election that has been one of the freest in the history of the Islamic Republic, is indicative of the people's ambivalence towards the ruling clergy and its legitimacy, even at the highest levels of government.
The February 28  elections revealed that today neither the elimination of the pre-election screening of candidates by the Guardian Council (Nezarat-e estesvabi Shoraye Negahban) nor the presence of the Opposition in the political scene can ensure the satisfaction of the Iranian people. In spite of the free presence of the Opposition, the people's unenthusiastic attitude clearly indicates that today not even the Opposition is acceptable as long as it operates within the present system. Today, the people's demands go much further than that.
People have well understood that the parliamentary capacities of this system are not enough to ensure reforms in the face of unelected institutions. The Supreme Leader's speech on the day of the elections regarding his nullification of the people's representatives after they were elected by the people indicated just how much the whole ruling system cares about the people and their opinions. It was a clear sign of their lack of commitment to respecting the opinion of the majority and showed that the rulers are and will be by no means willing to accept that opinion.
Iranian society knows that attempts to reform have hit the walls of the Constitution for years now, being stuck within its structural and undemocratic complications. They know that the Reformists' efforts have been useless because they have not ventured at eliminating the walls that block the way to reform. The State-Sponsored Reformists' insistence on using methods that have long proved bombastic futile despite the warnings of the Student Movement on June 2001, has paralyzed the process of reform and wasted its social potential. Finally, State-Sponsored Reforms have contaminated such concepts as freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, human rights, civil society, and democracy and has put an end to civil institutions and movements. Today, not even the sharp and clear words of Khatami have any effect, because people know very well where these words come from and to what they lead. They no longer even trust the Opposition members that are most politically distant from power, and this means that our national security and interests are in danger.
Even though the February 28  election was an event of epic proportions, indicative of the nation's awareness, it also spoke of a huge disaster; it is a disaster not because of the people's lack of participation or even the State-Sponsored Reformists' failure, but because it indicated the people's loss of confidence in even the marginal opposition. Yes, this is not a small alarm any more; this is louder than that, and it has already gone off, taking the sound of the people's dissatisfaction with this System beyond the borders of Iran.
But what led the Reforms here? Undoubtedly, analyzing what leads to people's disappointment with the State-Sponsored Reforms and the Opposition can help us find ways to overcome of the current political obstacle.
One of the main reasons why the reforms did not work was the methods the State-Sponsored Reformists used. The Dovom-e Khordad (May 1997) Movement, which was formed around a major social transition, made a point of opposing the Conservatives and supporting Khatami, using the parliamentary capacities of the System itself to push through the road to power step by step. Such calls for respecting human rights, extending social and civil freedoms, and defending the nation's rights and interests became mere slogans and decorations to attract people's attention and gain their support.
The Dovom-e Khordad Movement never set a limit as to how far back it would retreat in the face of opposition and accepted any deal just to gain more power. Even though they spoke of democracy, they kept silent when Tehran's elected representatives were eliminated from the Majils and people's votes were ignored. Even though they spoke of the freedom of expression, they neither took a step to pass the law for the freedom of the press nor moved a finger against the mass banning of newspapers and magazines and the arrest and interrogation of journalists. Even though they spoke of civil rights, they didn't question the illegal arrests and the medieval-style trials by the judiciary system. They spoke of human rights and yet kept silent about the mental and physical torture of the prisoners. They spoke of extending civil institutions and yet actively helped eliminate the Student Movement and fragmented it by their interference, influence, and pressure. Strangely enough, it never became clear what the Dovom e Khordad Movement was looking for when they spoke of reforms.
Not having even the slightest limit for compromise led some of the Reformists to think that to reform was for them to remain in power, and anyone who criticized them was to be accused of radicalism and anti-reformism and had to be instantly removed, just like the Fundamentalists wanted.
Although the Reformists came to power through the votes of the people, what they forgot was the role of the same people all during the reform process.
Such a strategy of 'pressure from below and bargaining from above' was supposed to help everyone benefit from the social potentials of the Movement. However, even in using this strategy, the Reformists were of the mind that the pressure from the people needed to be controlled and aligned with what they determined to be beneficial. Therefore, their idea of pressure from below never actualized in the form of civil institutions but in the form of an un-institutionalized mass presence that could be manipulated by them, even as they attacked and destroyed a civil movement such as the Student Movement instead of preserving and extending it.
The other strategies of the State-Sponsored Reformists also looked more like statements that only inserted some new vocabulary into the political sphere every now and then. These strategies were also based on the central role and position of the State-Sponsored Reformists and not on the will and participation of the people.
Now we see that with the passage of time, which has brought them [the Reformists] all the parliamentary power they could get, still no progress has been made in the way of reforms. Actually, the political obstruction that has resulted from the reactionary and aggressive policies of the Authoritarians and the deficiencies of the Reformists' methods has made people even more disappointed in State-Sponsored Reforms and Reformists.
If the State-Sponsored Reformists had seen the 14 million votes that were NOT cast in the 2001 presidential elections instead of denying the reduced participation of the people by emphasizing the number of votes cast by the first-timers (those who have just become of the eligible age for voting at 15), if they had analyzed the message implied in the un-cast votes realistically and properly, today neither the Reformists nor the Reforms would have ended up the way they have.
The fact remains that the Reformists pressured the Student Movement to support Khatami in the 2001 elections and used intellectual and social treasuries to gain popular support, and finally that the 22 million votes cast for Khatami basically proved useless, all resulting in despair, indifference, and frustration with the State-Sponsored Reforms.
The Reformists, who consider everything but their own mistaken opinion as Radicalism, refuse to see themselves turned into Conservatives, unable to properly analyze the current conditions.
The Reformists, by putting themselves in the center of all reforms, forgot about the people and their demands. They made less and less real reforms and considered what a couple of people from the Reforms Movement privately suggested to the Dovom Khordad Movement as the will of the nation.
The purpose of the State-Sponsored Reforms was to reduce the current crisis in Iran's ruling system, but they did not succeed in Iran. The fact that the crisis in participation, legitimacy, and competency has only intensified is proof that State-Sponsored Reforms have long come to an end. Today, it is clear to everyone that reforms from within the System do not have the ability to make any fundamental changes in the System to meet the demands and interests of society.
The February 28  election was not an alarm; the alarm sounded a long time ago. If we consider the June 2001 presidential elections as an alarm for the approaching end of the State-Sponsored Reforms, the February 28, 2003 elections were a void seal on the file of those reforms.
Today, the only way for State-Sponsored Reformists to leave a good name and memory in history is to hold a referendum for the Constitution in the country so that people can write their own destiny.
Opposition, the Unintelligent Elite
The legal Opposition in Iran also made one of its greatest political mistakes during the February 28  election.
While most of the elites spoke of the participation of people from the poverty-ridden South of Tehran, and while Tehran City Council has no efficient role in the Reform Movement as of now, it is not clear what the Opposition had been thinking in entering the City Council elections.
It is strange that while the people's elected representatives in the parliament should, according to the Constitution, enjoy parliamentary immunity, they can neither take a step in the way of reforms nor even cast an opinion on the course of events. Even the president who was elected by 22 million Iranians cannot move a finger without the permission of some unelected institutions. Even the obvious right of selecting members of his own cabinet is taken away from him, and pre-written economic plans and plans for fighting economic corruption are constantly forced on him. Which progress was the Opposition aspiring to when they entered the elections? What were they hoping to achieve?
The country is being foolishly directed towards threats to our national security and interests and creating irresolvable conflicts, and the State-Sponsored Reforms have faced a methodological and support bankruptcy. In these conditions, more care needs to be taken so that the people's disappointment in reform does not lead to illogical solutions such as turning to violence, foreigners, or the royalists for better ways out. It is up to the Opposition to prevent people from turning to foreigners -especially with what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan- by finding peaceful solutions to conflicts, making realistic and clear plans for the future, and striving to remove the constitutional obstacles.
Today we are confident of the System's obliviousness towards these threats and its inability to change people's minds and reassure them that their interests and security will be provided and maintained; therefore, we expect the Opposition to prevent our nation from paying such a high price and wasting all it has invested by having a thorough understanding of the political atmosphere of the country.
The Student Movement warns everyone again, like it has many times before, that the way out of the present situation and the way to achieve desired reforms is not to be found with the rulers but within the society itself and among the intellectuals who stay away from power. State-Sponsored Reforms will never be able to respond properly to society's demands, and to consider them as the only peaceful solution is a lie protecting those who occupy the seats of power right now.
State-Sponsored Reform was an idea that wasted the potential of society without achieving anything.
Today, the Student Movement suggests creating a democracy-seeking movement consisting of all the liberal elites and those who want a democratic Iran. It will be a movement not based on a hunger for power but on establishing absolute democracy, human rights, and social freedoms in Iran. It will be a movement that sets its limits for comprise from the very beginning and stands by them until the end.
Therefore, the Islamic Association of the Amir Kabir University of Technology invites all Iranian elites who are not after power but want democracy and freedom in Iran to join the Democratic Movement of Iran and create strategies to put the majority's will into action before the country is involved in even more devastating crises and its geographical and national interests are even more endangered.
* English Translation by ABF