The Khatami Factor

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I don't have much time to blog today, but I wanted to direct readers toward an interesting piece in today's Washington Post by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty arguing for the legitimacy of last week's presidential election in Iran.

Others have already critiqued it, but I would just like to point out one or two of the questionable assumptions made in the Terror Free Tomorrow poll conducted by Ballen and Doherty. One being, that elections in Iran roll out much as they do in functional, fair and more representative democracies. This is not the Iran of 2009 (or 1388, if you prefer).

Remember that Iran's presidential election - although broken down in a province-by-province fashion - is not decided by a system of electors; it's a popular vote with the option for a runoff should no candidate pass the 50% mark.

Nearly 70% of Iran's population lives in cities, making their elections more akin to the urban machine systems of the 20th Century in the United States (there's a reason Ahmadinejad wanted to hand out potatoes to voters). Three weeks - accounting roughly for the time between the TFT poll and this weekend's vote - is plenty of time to organize, mobilize and whip up voter support in a country with Iran's population density.

And I believe, as my title alludes, that there's one other neglected X factor in this discussion: Mohammad Khatami. Ballen and Doherty are correct to note that Mousavi's name ID was rather low with the young. However, this is why campaign literature, posters and signs often adjoined the two men. Khatami - while somewhat of an elite player himself - is still immensely popular in the country. His appearance at rallies and on signage with Mousavi was no mere sign of support, but a calculated effort by the Mousavi team to raise their candidate's name recognition with the crucial youth vote in Iran.

Whether or not it worked, I do not know. But in a place like Iran, a lot can change in three weeks.

UPDATE: Jon Cohen echoes my point about the turnout model in Iran.


All photos credit: AP Photos

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