Washington Times: Isn’t it revealing that autocrats and dictators around the globe bother to stage phony elections to claim legitimacy? Remember Saddam Hussein telling Dan Rather in 2002 he had won 99 percent of the vote? Fidel Castro routinely claims to receive overwhelming majorities in his rigged elections. And throughout Africa, various sorts of potentates adopt the title “president” with no true democratic backing. Iran, too, has staged phony elections to bolster the tyrannical regime of the mullahs. But while Iranians have voted overwhelmingly for reform, they have only got more repression. Washington Times
By Mona Charen
Isn’t it revealing that autocrats and dictators around the globe bother to stage phony elections to claim legitimacy?
Remember Saddam Hussein telling Dan Rather in 2002 he had won 99 percent of the vote? Fidel Castro routinely claims to receive overwhelming majorities in his rigged elections. And throughout Africa, various sorts of potentates adopt the title “president” with no true democratic backing.
Iran, too, has staged phony elections to bolster the tyrannical regime of the mullahs. But while Iranians have voted overwhelmingly for reform, they have only got more repression.
It’s worth noting the importance undemocratic regimes assign democratic window-dressing. This signals an important concession: only elections grant legitimacy to governments.
In 1776, the idea legitimacy can flow only from the consent of the governed was, well, revolutionary. In 2005, it is axiomatic if only imperfectly translated into action. Saddam did not claim dictatorship was superior to democracy. The mullahs, for all their religious fanaticism, do not claim to have received the mandate of heaven to govern Iran. All claim to be genuine democrats.
There is power in this insight. Recall the situation in Nicaragua in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Sandinista regime was Marxist. It came to power originally as part of a coalition elected after the dictator Anastasio Somoza’s fall. Once in power, the Sandinistas purged the more moderate coalition members and began building a Cuban-style totalitarian regime. In 1984, they staged a phony election and declared themselves re-elected. But as the United States began applying pressure by aiding the armed noncommunist opposition (the “Contras”), and as the other nations of Central America began demanding free and fair elections in Nicaragua, the regime in Managua became increasingly concerned.
In the end, as the Soviet Union was collapsing and Eastern Europe was breaking the shackles of a half-century of repression, the Sandinistas finally consented to hold truly free elections. It was the first time a communist country had held a free election. It was also the last. They were defeated in a landslide (albeit one that caught U.S. liberals by surprise).
President Bush’s policy of promoting democracy around the world has met with skepticism, even ridicule, among the so-called foreign policy realists. But consider the psychological jolt sent by the elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority through the bodies politic of the Middle East. No citizen of Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait or a half-dozen other countries in the region can be indifferent to the spectacle of Iraqis drafting and approving their own constitution. Nor can he ignore the rapid progress of a freely elected Mahmoud Abbas toward peace with Israel.
Iran can be the next Nicaragua. Like Nicaragua, Iran is now bordered by more than one free (or soon to be free) country Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Nicaragua, Iran is a human-rights nightmare. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly cited Iran for abuse, torture and murder. As Michael Ledeen reported in National Review Online: “Hundreds of democracy advocates are being tortured in Iran’s prisons. Tens of thousands have been killed in the past six years, beginning with the mass murders of protesters in 1989. Public executions are common, and women are routinely executed by stoning.”A 16-year-old mentally retarded girl was recently hanged for “indecent” behavior.
And like Nicaragua, Iran has an enormous internal opposition. Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, is working on legislation to commit the United States to support the democratic opposition in Iran. Let it be open and forthright, as was Ronald Reagan’s aid to the Contras.
President Bush has already offered a psychological boost by telling the Iranian people in his Inaugural address that the United States stands with those who fight for freedom everywhere. Those words alone were enough to send thousands of Iranians into the streets. In the dark corners of Iran’s prisons, there must be thousands of prisoners who like Natan Sharansky, who thrilled while he suffered in a Soviet prison to hear Reagan’s speeches on freedom now believe there may yet be hope for them and their beleaguered country.
Mr. Ledeen suggests the next logical step: Demand a free and internationally supervised referendum on the mullahcracy.
If Europe, Iran’s neighbors and the United States join in pressuring the regime to prove its legitimacy with a truly free vote, Tehran may have to succumb.
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.