Today marks the first round of voting in the Iranian election, with voters working at polls to decide who should succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran. We should know who the winner is, or if another round of voting is needed, within a few hours.
In honor of the election, the following image has been posted to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Facebook page:
Ignoring the anti-Zionist statements, which are dumb and offensive for obvious reasons, the core message of the cartoon is that Iran's election is actually far more democratic than the U.S. election.
On a surface level, it's possible to understand the argument. It's true, for example, that in practice there are only two possible candidates for the U.S. presidency — the candidates put forward by America's two major political parties. While the voting public plays a role in the selection of these candidates, a large part of their selection depends on the internal workings of the parties. It is also possible to have a president elected without winning the popular vote.
Iran is offering six different candidates in this election, including both reformist choice Hassan Rouhani, or the conservative favorite Saeed Jalili. Whomever eventually becomes president will have to win over 50% of the vote, either in the first round or in a second round run-off.
However, Iran is hardly a full democracy. For one thing, the Iranian constitution gives the unelected Ayatollah Khamenei much of the power in the country, including control of the powerful military. Khamenei has been Supreme leader of Iran since 1989 when he succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini. No election was held to choose him.
Khamenei also holds sway over the Guardian Council, an unelected 12-member body consisting of six jurists and six theologians who decide who can run for president. This body whittled the list of 686 people who registered as candidates down to just six people — prominent moderate candidates like ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were barred from entry. No one who didn't believe in God was allowed to run.
Secretary of State John Kerry has already questioned whether this election will be fair. During Iran's last election in 2009, widespread and sometimes violent protests broke out after reformist voters disputed the result. This year the result may be different, but not in a good way — the widespread belief is that Khamenei and the Guardian Council have rigged the candidates to make sure a contentious result won't happen again.
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