He who counts the votes rules the country

Published 2:28 am Thursday, June 18, 2009

One of the last of the old time county sheriffs/political power brokers told me a long time ago that he didn’t care who voted, as long as he got to count the votes.
He was being a little bit facetious and a little bit revelatory. The old sheriff, now deceased, would appreciate the situation in Iran, where the ruling authorities announced the results of last Friday’s election just two hours after the polls closed.
You should remember that the voting was done on paper ballots with no automated machines or computers to count the vote. I’m told that the last time Wilson County voted on paper ballots, in the late 1970s, the results were not in until dawn the next morning.
Heck, even with a new, fully automated, fully compliant (with the Help America Vote Act) computerized voting system, Wilson County can’t announce winners in two hours. By the way, last week’s Iranian election involved millions more ballots than Wilson County’s elections.
The problem in Iran is that much of the public doesn’t believe the authorities’ count of the votes. They believe their opposition candidates won. They believe their grassroots political movement has ousted fundamentalist, jingoistic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, replacing him with a president who offers more personal freedom and economic opportunity.
The photos of the post-election opposition protests are incredible and frighteningly reminiscent of the 1979 Iranian rallies that ousted the Shah and installed the ruling theocracy.
There is a disconnect, however, between the opposition’s righteous protests and reality. Ahmadinejad, despite all his confrontational anti-Western rhetoric and Holocaust denials, is not the true ruler of Iran.
He is, essentially, a puppet of the true rulers, the Shi’ite clerics who actually run things in this theocratic society, where every law and every policy must be approved by a council of theologians and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Imagine a world where everything President Obama did and every law Congress passed had to be reviewed by Pat Robertson.
The Guardian Council has agreed to recount a limited number of ballots, but that does not satisfy presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The opposition is certain that legitimate ballots have already been destroyed.
Even if Ahmadinejad is ousted, which seems unlikely, real change in Iran won’t come until the absolute power of the ayatollah and Guardian Council is broken.
The possibility of that happening any time soon is nil. The best Western interests can hope for is a moderation of the ruling clerics’ hard line toward international opinion and Western culture.
The people on the street, many of whom are younger than the 30-year-old Islamic Revolution, care more about economic opportunity and freedom than they do about nuclear weapons.
But the ruling clerics are going to continue to count the votes, and that’s where the power lies, as any old county sheriff will tell you.