Ideas

Iran’s Fixed Elections And The State Of The Islamic ''Republic''

By denying the right to moderate candidates for the upcoming presidential elections, the regime shows it has little interest in even a semblance of democracy.

In Tehran, getting ready for the June 18 presidential election
Roshanak Astaraki, Hamed Mohammadi and Azadeh Karimi

-Editorial-

The failure of reformist candidates to win vetting approval for Iran's 13th presidential elections slated for June 18 is dividing reformists, and pushing them further away from participating in Iran's politics.

Let's look at the positions some adopted after the list of approved presidential candidates was published. As on prior occasions in the country officially called the Islamic Republic of Iran, the shut-out moderate candidates insist they will never boycott the ballot box.

Hojjatoleslam Hasan Khomeini, a grandson of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, makes a nice living from the public monies paid to maintain his grandfather's mausoleum (roughly 14 million euros a year). Khomeini challenged the approved candidates to "drop out of the race," out of decency! Yet he didn't even run — no doubt on the advice (instruction) of current Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Khomeini's grandson seems to have no idea about the regime's already dismal public standing when he warns as he did that such disqualifications will "harm the Republic" in Iran and "weaken the bases of the Islamic system's legitimacy and acceptability!"

Mohsen Hashemi-Rafsanjani, another disqualified aspirant and son of the late president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, cited his father's words that "under no circumstances should one boycott polls."

Criticism of disqualifications are sharper than before.

Mohammad Khatami, who once headed a would-be reformist government and has played a key role in past years mobilizing voters, also warned the disqualifications would threaten "the Republic." Saying nothing about Khamenei's role, he chose instead to criticize the Guardian Council, the body that determines who is fit for public office.

A prominent association of reformist and leftist clerics, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Teachers declared that with the "extensive" disqualifications, "everybody knows' now the June elections will be a "lifeless formality."

While reformist criticisms of disqualifications are a little sharper in tone than before, these same people still fail to protest about the many problems ailing ordinary Iranians. They are concerned less with society's security and prosperity than with their own exclusion from the corridors of power. If one or two had been approved to run, they would once again have urged people to vote in another "formality" that had something in it for them.

Many reputed reformists, both inside Iran and abroad, continue to see their interests as entwined with those of the regime. Thus, instead of urging a boycott, they weepingly regret being robbed of a chance to "actively" take part.

At a campaign center for conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi near Tehran, on June 4 — Photo: Sobhan Farajvan/Pacific Press/ZUMA

Most of them believe they have a duty to respect the regime's red lines. And like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, they know that they're all in the same boat, that none will benefit from it sinking. That is why the supreme leader and his Guardian Council are not bothered by reformist objections and disqualified them without remorse.

Many analysts believe the disqualifications mean the regime no longer needs reformists to pull in votes, at least for now. And in any case, for many reformists the end of politics is not their expulsion from the revolutionary banquet. There will always be a job somewhere, to allow their "active" participation.

Iran's leaders may be more concerned with those who have consistently boycotted voting for decades and, in contrast with reformists, have widespread public support. Khamenei asked people, after his list was published, "not to listen to those urging us not to go to the polls." He too knows that restricting elections can play into the hands of people he's termed "seditionists."

So why and on which grounds did he permit the disqualifications? Did he imagine, as with the end of the Ahmadinejad presidencies, that any old president will do — seeing as they're nobodies anyway — to refuel the system? Indeed, some reformists now timidly suggesting the need for "change" may come in handy for that, perhaps some years down the line.

But today, it seems Khamenei and the Guardian Council decided that since Iranians were not going to vote en masse anyway, they might as well have a "quiet" election. As the deputy-speaker of parliament, the conservative Abdolreza Mesri says, "a massive turnout doesn't matter per se, and can even yield a bad election." It could, he says, "divert our attention to how many voted, not the election's goal."

There's little place for the phony spectacle of a preordained election.

The voters are of course worried about the economy. The Rouhani government had promised to fix the economy within 100 days of its election. Instead things just got worse, and millions of Iranians have slipped below the poverty or absolute poverty lines. The state itself has put inflation at 168% since 2018, when the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran. Many more Iranians are living in shanty-towns now than before the Rouhani presidencies and the middle class is fading.

Add to that: a pandemic, worsening pollution, drought, social disintegration and pervasive political corruption, which leave little place for the phony spectacle of a preordained election. There seems to be no remedy for Iran's myriad ills — but then, the regime fancies as it always has that even without Iran, an Islamic Republic can survive and thrive.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ