Saturday, May 06, 2006
Ahmadinejad The Populist
(The clip has 2 parts. The first is a selection of one of Ahmadinejad's campaign speeches, in which he promised social freedoms and declared that the government has no business to interfere with people's preferences. The second segment is of the recent crackdowns in Tehran and elsewhere on people's "unislamic covering." Thousnads of veiled women and security forces have been installed on busy street corners to harass the better-dressed Tehrani women.)
Populism is the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the priveleged elite. Ahmadinejad's campaign platform, as well as his post-election policies, qualify him as a populist leader.
(1) Redistribution of Wealth: Ahmadinejad's main campaing promise was to "spread the oil wealth." In one speech, he lamented that "60% of the country's resources are spent on Tehran." In another, he proposed using oil money to finance the distribution of stocks from state-owned enterprises directlyto people . Such messages travel fast in a country where nearly 40% of the population lives under poverty.
(2) Justice: Another aspect of populism is the primacy of justice over freedom. In a famous campaign speech, Ahmadinejad declared,
"We must revolutionize our economy by prioritizing justice... anyone who wants to
talk about the economy needs to address this issue of justice... The prophets
came in the first place to institute justice..."
(3) Statism: Populists advocate using all state resources to elevate and address the interests of the common man. One of Ahmadinejad's first proposed measures after becoming president was the creation of the non-profit Mehr-e Reza Fund. The main function of the this fund, which would receive 30% of Iran's hard currency reserve funds, is to "solve the problems of the youth, particularly marriage." When the parliament struck down this measure Ahmadinejad went forward and established the fund anyway with an executive order. Here, checks and balances, separation of powers, and everything else is subbordinated to state activism.
(4) Empowerment: Populist leaders gain popularity initially because they instill a sense of empowerment in their followers, most of whom come from the lower strata of the society. In addressing Western powers, Ahmadinejad often remindshis audience of the invincibility of Muslims and Iranians:
The Iranian nation is a learned nation. It is a civilised nation. It is a
history-making nation... You know and we know: you need us far more than we need you.
(5) Corruption: For a moment, set aside whatever faults Ahmadinejad might have: he is not corrupt. A rare breed among Iran's notoriously corrupt rulers, Ahmadinejad lives in a modest house in Tehran's Narmak district. Conversely, his main rival in the 2nd round, former president Rafsanjani, is estimated to be the wealthiest man in Iran.
In the past few months we've witnessed a resurrection of populist leaders in Latin America, where income inequaility has become a polarizing national issue. In Iran too, the extreme disparity of wealth might go a long a way in explaining the unexpected rise of Ahmadinejad.
Populist or demagouge? Handing out welfare and subsidies to shore up support does nothing to improve the economy and the infrastructure of the wealth distribution.Post a Comment