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.
The president-elect of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, has put forth a 10-point plan that includes the following: universal access to the ballot box; separation of religion and state; freedom of association, assembly and the press; equal rights for women and minorities; support for the rule of law and an independent judiciary and judicial system based on the presumption of innocence of the accused and the right to be tried in a public court; the rights of private property and investment in a market economy; and, most importantly for the world, a nuclear-free Iran.
The Obama administration continues to deal with Iran as if the regime can be pressured to change its ways through economic sanctions. But the mullahs who rule Iran could not care less about the suffering of their people, which has been the result of the near collapse of the country's economy. Khamenei is interested only in his own power and that of his mullahs. As long as these tyrants rule Iran, the Iranian people will not be free and the world will not be safe.
Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons. The regime exports terrorism and has sent weapons and fighters to suppress the aspirations of those who want freedom in Syria and in other places in the Middle East. And the regime would like nothing better than to wipe off the map the only true democracy in the Middle East: Israel.
No matter who is "elected" president of Iran on June 14, none of this will change. It's time for the freedom-loving world to wake up to the fact that phony elections cannot bring about the regime change that is necessary in Iran. But perhaps those tens of thousands of people who will gather in Paris on June 22 can show the world a better alternative -- if only they can be seen and heard.