By Shokouh Mirzadegi
The Islamic Republic has not released any credible data on social, political, economic and cultural issues in the past four decades. In most cases, the security agencies review and modify the findings of any study or research before making it available to the general public.
There have also been instances when the authorities have censored or destroyed the results of an opinion poll that was released accidentally by a government or a private organization. They have even arrested and jailed researchers on some occasions. Thankfully, the media and the Internet have played a significant role in providing a wealth of information on a variety of issues to people.
I recently came across an interesting opinion poll on the current political climate in Iran which was released in May 2018 by the Gamman research group (gamaan.org). The director of the group is Dr. Ammar Maleki, an assistant professor at the Tilburg University Law School Department of Politics and Public Administration in the Netherlands. Various diagrams represent the poll results in this survey.
Although Gamman is a small online research site based outside Iran, its findings could shed light on the possible future direction of Iranian society.
I do not agree entirely with the survey’s methods and conclusions. Some of the questions are formulated in such a way as to solicit a desired response. The multiple-choice format also limits a person’s answers. Below are some examples of these types of issues.
The survey offers four possible answers to the question: “What do you think would be the best political system for Iran?” The choices are limited to “secular democracy,” “presidential system,” “democratic republic” and “constitutional monarchy.” One might add “nationalists” and a few left-wing political options to the list.
People are asked to choose between “federal” and “central” government as the best future political structure for Iran. There are no references to structures that are neither central nor federal.
Question 5 lists the names of a handful of individuals as potential leaders of a political party or a presidential candidate, and asks respondents to indicate their first choice. There are other qualified candidates whose names are not listed among possible options.
An opinion poll usually lists the names of those who have announced their candidacies in an election. Yet Gamman’s questionnaire includes individuals who have never run for office. I am not questioning these people’s qualifications of course. The survey could have left the answer blank, allowing people to put in the name of their candidate of choice. For instance, the only Arab-rights activist mentioned in the survey is Yousef Azizi (Bani-Torof), who currently lives in exile in London. It does not include other notable activists in Khuzestan who advocate secession. Also, is there no one besides Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi (considered the leader of Iran’s Sunni minority) to represent the Baluch people?
The survey also lists only the names of four opposition leaders outside Iran: Reza Pahlavi (constitutional monarchy), Maryam Rajavi (the People’s Mojahedin of Iran), Abdullah Mohtadi (secretary general of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan) and Hassan Shariatmadari (leading proponent of the Free Elections Movement). The names of social democrats, secularists, and others are conspicuously missing from this section. Shouldn’t the survey include other opposition groups that have been fighting the regime over the last four decades?
In section four of the survey, respondents are asked to pick the top two candidates they would most likely vote for in a free election. A note says: “We realize that this is not an exhaustive list and that there are other prominent political figures whose names don’t appear here. But we’ve used relevant criteria to make our selection.” It is unclear what those criteria are.
The note adds: “The list includes the names of relatively well-known individuals from both ends of the political spectrum who are under 80 years of age. They are conservatives, reformists, progressives, religious-nationalists, secularists and those from various ethnic regions.” But the list doesn’t include anyone from the secular opposition groups which advocate significant change or the overthrow of the regime.
Among the people on the list, only eight have ever received any votes inside and outside the country. They include Nasrin Sotoudeh (a human rights lawyer, currently in jail) and Fariborz Raisdana (an economist and political activist). The list also includes four reformists including Seyyed Mohammad Khatami (former president 1997-2005), Mir Hossein Mousavi (former prime minister, currently under house arrest), Javad Zarif (current foreign minister) and Ahmad Zeidabadi (journalist).
It is curious that only eight people on the list received favorable votes. I must admit that had I taken part in the survey, I would have also selected Prince Reza and Mrs. Sotoudeh as the most popular figures inside and outside Iran. Yet there are others who would have received more votes than reformists and current officials had their names been on the list.
Diagram 10 shows the answers to a question that asks the participants to choose between 12 hypothetical political parties and select the one that they are most likely to vote for in a free election. Curiously enough, none of the real or hypothetical parties on the list are secular. Most of the 12 parties have been listed in other sections of the survey as the most popular ones after Prince Reza’s. According to the diagram, the social democratic party has received the 2nd highest vote.
These types of surveys and opinion polls do not necessarily identify social, political, economic and cultural trends in Iran. Yet they could have a positive impact on the future development of the country.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]