In the election of 2005, Ahmadinejad pulled off a surprise upset against former President Rafsanjani. He generally ran as a populist against the corruption of the wealthy Rafsanjani. Reform President Khatami could not run, as the Iranian constitution only allows for two consecutive terms. In 2005, many reform-minded Iranians were disillusioned with Khatami's lack of reform, and despite his two landslide wins in 1997 and 2001, little changed. As a result in 2005 fewer of them voted. The 1997 and 2001 elections reported 75%+ voter turnout, while Ahmadinejad was elected with a 62% turnout in 2005. Since 2005, there has been a conservative crackdown on the few reforms regarding personal freedom advanced during Khatami's regime. As a result, it appears that people are not likely to see voting as inconsequential and we are likely to see voter turnout as high as 80% of the 46 million eligible voters. A few months ago, many voters were likely apathetic as they doubted that powers behind the scenes would allow Ahmadinejhad to really be challenged. In recent weeks, with debates and public statements viciously criticizing Ahmadinejad, people are starting to believe that Mousavi could actually win. Khatami has been campaigning heavily for Mousavi, and the public displays reflect the belief that they might have a role to play. Large turnout definitely helps Mousavi.
Demographically, 75% of Iran's population was born after the Revolution, and are thus under 30. There are four more years of these voter eligible than there were in 2005. It is probable that this voting block will also break in larger percentages for Mousavi than Ahmadinejad. The economy is a key issue, and many young people with college degrees cannot find jobs or acceptable living arrangements in Tehran and other major cities. "It's the Economy, Stupid," could easily apply to this election cycle in Iran and this does not bode well for the incumbent. In addition, the ruling elites cannot ignore the desires of such an enormous percentage of the nation for long. Iran is in for some major shifts due to demographics alone. If the ruling elites do not find some way to placate the youth of the country, they will have to turn to much more repressive measures.
Mousavi's wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard has been campaigning side by side with him. They have been clearly targeting the women's vote, and the repression that took a turn against women under Ahmadinejad's regime.
An accomplished scholar and adviser to former President Khatami, Dr. Rahnavard promises to put women's rights front and center in a Mousavi administration. She has also been positively covered here by Guardian writer Massoumeh Torfeh. Here is another short article on her campaign efforts: May 21st
This election strategy could change the dynamic if the women's vote went significantly over 50% for Mousavi. 65% of the University students in Iran are women. It provides the potential for a win in the first round if reform minded Iranians give most of their support to Mousavi; at the very least it will propel Mousavi to the runoff election. The risk of this position lies in the possible reaction of conservative/traditionalists who may strongly oppose such reforms and support Ahmadinejad or Rezai. Strategically, it would seem that this solidified opposition may be split in the first round between the two Conservatives, but they would likely rally behind whichever Conservative receives the most votes and advances to the runoff election.
The combination of these three factors could easily lead to Mousavi's win. It will certainly be something to watch in a couple days, as we should know the results of the first round late Friday night or early Saturday Morning.
Interesting Further Reading:
If you think this election does not matter read the NPR piece, the forces backing Ahmadinejad are frightening and while a Mousavi win will not eliminate them, it will at least remove them for the time from some of their power.
The Jewish Vote
This article speculates on how roughly 25,000 Jews in Iran will vote, and the answer will surprise you.
This article covers the Mousavi campaign's mocking of Ahmadinejad's "mystic" tendencies. It makes him look pretty silly, and this is one of the reasons that many conservative mullahs have had it with Ahmadinejad.
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