March 15th, 2008
01:18 AM ET

Reza Aslan: A different election


An Iranian man casts his vote in the parliamentary elections on March 14 in Tehran, Iran. Iranians have begun to vote in elections in which reformist opposition have been barred from running against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As the three remaining presidential candidates begin staking out their positions on important foreign policy issues facing the country, each will have to explain how they plan to deal with an increasingly powerful, increasing belligerent Iran.

It is no exaggeration to say that America's relations with the Islamic Republic hinges on who will be the next president and commander in chief.

Iran is having an election, too. But unlike the primary season in the United States, Iranians do not support the ballot choices offered to them by the regime of the Islamic Republic.

A new nationwide public opinion survey of Iran conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow and D3 Systems shows widespread disillusionment with the candidates running in the Parliamentary elections on March 14.  When asked which candidates they plan on supporting – whether Reformists or Conservatives – a third of Iranians replied "neither," while a quarter said they do not know.

Only 8% said they would vote for the Conservatives; 22% for the Reformists.

Iranians, it seems, are simply not inspired by any of the candidates running for office.  This has partly to do with the regime's decision to exclude many Reformist candidates from contesting the elections.  A staggering 68% of Iranians supported allowing all Reformist candidates to run for office, compared to a mere 10% who agreed with the regime's ban.

More significantly, the vision of the Iranian people for a more open and fully democratic system of government remains strong.  86% of those surveyed said that they support a political system in which all of Iran's leaders, including the Supreme Leader, would be chosen by a free and direct vote of the people.

The power and role of the Supreme Leader is at the core of the Islamic Republic because it is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not President Ahmadinejad, who exercises ultimate authority.  Yet the survey found that almost nine in ten want the most powerful official in Iran to be held accountable to the voters.

Indeed, apart from the economy, the indicia of democratic governance of ensuring free elections and a free press are the most important long-term goals Iranians have for their government.

The poll also proved once again that the Iranian people yearn for a more democratic future with closer ties to the U.S. More than three-quarters of Iranians back normalizing relations with the United States, and 71% want to work with the U.S. to help resolve the Iraq war. 70% are also in favor of providing full inspections to nuclear sites and a guarantee not to develop nuclear weapons in return for outside aid and investment.

At the same time, however, Iranians are becoming increasingly impatient with American foreign policy toward their country.  When a similar poll was conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow/D3 in June 2007, it found that Iranians were far more supportive of offering concessions to the United States in return for normalized relations than they appear to be today.  Moreover, Iranians who believe developing nuclear weapons is "not at all important" has dropped from one-third in June to only one-fifth today.

In good news for President Ahmadinejad, Iranians are growing ever more confident in his handling of the economy.  Nearly half of those surveyed believed Ahmadinejad's policies have succeeded in reducing unemployment and inflation, while 42% believe the Iranian economy is headed in the right direction.  In June, that number stood at only 27%.

These are dangerous trends.  Iran is at a pivotal moment in its history. Despite the regime's constant vilifying of the United States (or perhaps because of it), the Iranian people continue to look to the U.S. as a beacon of political freedom and economic opportunity.  Iranian youth in particular, who make up some two-thirds of the population, yearn for the same rights and freedoms they see in other parts of the world when they turn on their satellite televisions or log on to the Internet.

The next American President will inherit an Iranian portfolio that has remained more or less unchanged, and ineffective, for three decades.  Now is the time for a new policy that supports the Iranian people without linking Iranian opposition groups to the U.S., that furthers constructive engagement without unduly empowering regime hardliners.  While these steps are undoubtedly difficult to balance, for most of the Cold War, they provided the cornerstone of American policy toward the Soviet Union.

As President Reagan told us, America's greatest ally against the Soviet Union in winning the Cold War was the average Soviet, "Citizen Ivan," Reagan said.  The new TFT survey shows this is no less true with Iran today.

– Reza Aslan, Author "No god but God"

Filed under: Iran • Reza Aslan
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. SUNNY

    I believe change will come in 2009. I do not believe Iraqi's will walk with a deep grudge. I could be wrong.

    About more oil here, it's on the "table" here in Mississippi. The only thing, we will have to divert water from the Leaf River around Hattiesburg or the Pascagoula River that drains into the Gulf of Mexico.
    Something about the sediment from the rivers. Some people are against it, because lots of folks use these rivers for recreational purposes.

    March 17, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  2. William of Iowa

    While the data presented is interesting reading, I have little trust in it's accuracy. Iran has placed very strict controls on the gathering and reporting of the affairs of it's citizenry and their goverment. Elected officials will not undermine the will of the Islamic leaders to move toward democracy. To promote capitalism maybe, but not at the expense of strict complience with the Koran. Iran is a theocracy first and foremost and the Revolutionary Guard is not above cruelty to enforce the mandates of a constitution that recognizes only the tenents set forth by the Koran. Does it work for the people? Only time will tell.

    March 17, 2008 at 11:25 am |
  3. Tamara

    America need to be concern with the welfare of its citizens.

    March 16, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  4. Susie

    I await the day that the new generation in Iran and other middle eastern countries rises up and takes charge. It is inevitable. In this age of technology – freedom is becoming increasingly understood by
    those who have have lived in fear and suppression. Perhaps that is why the insurgency fights so hard. Militant extremists are losing and fighting to inhibit progress, learning and understanding. Freedom is
    difficult to deny when people truly hunger for it – especially an aggressive generation that can observe freedom in other places around the world. The upheavel will come – technology feeds freedom
    seeking individuals. We can only hope that it comes sooner rather than later.

    March 16, 2008 at 3:08 pm |
  5. A.M. Saqib

    Great reporting! I hope one day we here in United States reach, at least most of us, to a clear understanding of various cultures and relgious traditions of the world. In today's time, because of information highway the whole world community is becoming a very small town.

    I can see and agree with our candidiate 'Barak Obama' the rational and power of 'Diplomacy' particulary in today's world, over unwise wars.

    May there be a true and lasting peace all over the world for every one, regardless of their faith. Afterall, this would be and is the will of all who believe in 'realities' and 'fairness'.

    Houston, Texas

    March 16, 2008 at 11:57 am |
  6. rosana

    If America keeps acting like Dick Cheney and George Bush, soon America will be nowhere. We are not the only super power now. China, India, Russia etc are already competing to be on top. Cheney and Bush's Iraq war is totally destroying America yet, still some Republicans think they are great, what can you say!

    March 16, 2008 at 6:09 am |
  7. Kathy, Andover

    There was a CNN report, not that long ago, where a reporter was interviewing young Iranian citizens. They seemed to convey they would like the next US President to be willing to talk to Iran - that would appear to be support for Barack Obama. Would you agree, Reza?

    March 15, 2008 at 6:43 pm |
  8. Reme Baca

    I believe we've heard this song before, during the Carter and Regan administration. Iran dreams of becoming a decocracy. So did Iraq and other south and middle east countries. Wanting to enjoy the freedoms of a democracy, is a long ways from becoming one. Lets look at our own back yard. Mexico and Canada. Are they democracies? What are we doing to enable them to become one.


    March 15, 2008 at 6:11 pm |
  9. Jean Perry

    Thank you for your factual reporting, for being a "True Journalist". for
    understanding we lay people do have the ability to assimilate and
    process information. And for not showing bias.

    Jean Perry

    March 15, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  10. Ron

    What good does it do to have elections if you have to vote for the same person or a person who believes the same way as the crazy man. What a farce, to bad the Idiot can't see these comments.

    March 15, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  11. rosie lyons

    I am not an expert on this subject, but just thought to give my opinion too. It seem to me that the much turmoil among the neighboring states, has to do with religious differences from long ago. If this be truth, then no amount of physical warfare will not resolve this problem. A religious battle has to be resolved intellectually. it will call for some one who can disagree without being disagreeable to resolve such matter. it will takeone who is aware of how and why these countries can not get pass the Old Testament way of life, but also wise enough to show them that there is another way to work out their differences, which is to sit down and reason together, as it is stated in the scripture.

    March 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm |
  12. Michael, NC

    It's unfortunate to see how surpressed the citizens of these countries are. Obviously, they are not given the rights they deserve and are oblivious to the fact that their government is not turning towards a better future. Tthey say that they want the freedoms we have in our country, but do not know who to support for these changes. It is unfortunate and wrong.

    March 15, 2008 at 10:30 am |
  13. Minou, New York City

    Hi Reza,
    great article!! I love it, that you keep providing a point of view, that most other journalists on CNN don't. You keep reminding the viewers, that Iran doesn't consist of Koran- swinging, turban-wearing, USA -equals- Satan-shouting retards (well, there are some...), but that Iran is comprised of mostly young people who listen to Rhianna and watch re-runs of "Friends" just like we do!
    It is unfortunate, that Americans seem to have forgotten the friendly relations they had with the Shah-led Iran, and seemingly only remember the islamic revolution and the hostage crisis.
    I hope things will finally change for the better under the new president.

    Hope to see you on 360 soon!!

    I just realized that I still haven't gotten your book....I'm going to Borders now!

    March 15, 2008 at 9:21 am |
  14. xtina

    we need to get disengaged from needing Iran's oil. let's increase our own supply right here in the US off the Fla. coast and in Alaska . Let's look at clean, safe nuclear energy too. The price will go down and we won't be "held hostage" by the Middle East if we focus on these two solutions.

    March 15, 2008 at 2:59 am |
  15. eric metzger

    again..its about freedom..theres facsts

    March 15, 2008 at 2:54 am |
  16. Ashti Waissi

    hmmm, i wonder why Iran do everything that USA does, i hate Iran's elections coz they are islamic culture. Iran must be destroyed.

    March 15, 2008 at 2:30 am |
  17. Annie Kate


    I hope that whoever gets elected here will have the foresight to be an ally with Iran and not treat it like a hotbed of terror as the current President seems to do. In all the wars since 1900 we have justified our wars as bringing democracy to the country we were fighting. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq didn't and haven't turned out as planned. Maybe our next leader will try to help a country whose people want to be democratic by normalizing relations and just being their friend. Sounds naive I know but it might just work.

    Thank you for your profound post.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 15, 2008 at 1:59 am |