Like most people who live in democratic countries, Americans believe elections matter. But elections alone don't define democracy. Elections are simply the mechanism by which free people choose the leaders who will uphold the rule of law and protect basic human rights, including the rights of those who did not vote for them.
This week's Iranian elections are a case in point. Despite comments to the contrary by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Iran does not have an "elected" government, regardless of what happens on June 14th when Iranians go to the polls.
Four years ago, fraud riddled the sham election process that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the president's seat for another term. But the stuffed ballot boxes that produced a predetermined outcome were only a manifestation of the real problem.
Iran is a theocratic, totalitarian state ruled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a council of mullahs who dictate everything that goes on within Iran. They decide which candidates are allowed to run for office, what the rules of the election process are and what the eventual outcome will be. To pretend otherwise is to legitimize a regime that deserves no legitimization.
Nonetheless, there is reason for hope. A vibrant dissident movement opposed to the Khamenei regime exists both inside Iran and abroad. On June 22, tens of thousands of these Iranian dissidents will gather in Paris to voice their opposition to the tyranny within their home country. Happily, this year these dissidents will gather without the suspicion hanging over their heads that they are anti-democratic terrorists.
The gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran drew some 100,000 participants to Paris last year, including more than 100 international dignitaries and parliamentarians, despite the designation by the U.S. of one of its constituent organizations, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, as a terrorist group. After a long legal battle, the state department finally lifted the PMOI's terrorist designation, which was never supported by evidence of threat or hostility to the U.S. in the 15 years the group was on the list.
But despite the delisting, if precedent is prologue, most Americans will hear little about the upcoming gathering of the NCRI. That's too bad, because as one who was there last year and will be again this year, I believe the NCRI promotes true democracy in Iran.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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