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Journal of Democracy 14.1 (2003) 183-186
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Documents On Democracy
Akbar Ganji is one of Iran's leading investigative journalists. He is the author of the bestselling 2000 book Dungeon of Ghosts, in which he implicated leading Iranian conservatives in the murder of intellectuals in 1998. He was convicted in April 2000 on charges of collecting confidential information that harms national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic system, for which he is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence. The following is excerpted from "A Republican Manifesto: A Model for Overcoming Iran's Political Deadlock," which Ganji recently wrote from the Evin prison. The manifesto is a fervent appeal for the establishment of secular democracy in Iran and has had great impact on Iranian political debate. The text was translated from the Persian by Amir Nejat.
After many years of struggle, Iran's reformist movement is still unable to attain its goals. Despite winning several important elections and gaining control of both the executive and legislative branches, reformists have made no significant gains, while political deadlock has paralyzed their leaders. There is no hope that these reformists will bring real freedom to Iran, and consequently despair pervades vast sections of Iranian society. Any model for replacing the existing condition must be incisive, detailed, and clear. Otherwise, the problems of the 1979 Revolution will only be repeated. . . .
As history teaches, democratic means can empower people to remove despots without recourse to violence. . . . Whenever laws and policies are not equitable or just, and there is no hope for democracy within the framework of existing laws, "civil disobedience" is the only way to open the door to reason, justice, and morality. . . . Such circumstances require brave and heroic figures, willing to sacrifice themselves on democracy's behalf—people such as Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, and Aleksander Dubcek, who demonstrated the power of people to rule themselves. . . . [End Page 183]
Boycotting elections is a peaceful manner in which people may powerfully demonstrate their dissatisfaction. . . . Accordingly, in order to achieve a legitimate republic, people should not participate in any election until a popular referendum is held. There is no political statement available to the Iranian people more powerful than an election boycott.
Who can provide the necessary leadership for such civil disobedience? Reformists in government cannot, since they have both accepted the framework of the existing laws and followed too-minimal a set of demands. The threat by some to leave the government will come to nothing, since the majority of reformists do not support this threat. The minority who do are simply waiting for an opportunity that will never materialize.
The alliance between the forces of the opposition is the necessary condition for the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. To begin with, the opposition outside the government should create extensive alliances. Negotiations should be pursued with reformists, but the key is not to leave the fate of the Republic in their hands. In the longer term, we need a modern market-based economy. Poor countries have a low probability of becoming democratic while those that are democratic are generally wealthy. A market economy leads to the dispersion of wealth and resources, which in turn leads to competition in politics and prevents monopolies on power. Such an economic organization gives people a sense of sovereignty and independence, which are values intrinsic to democracy.
On September 30, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) presented its fifteenth annual W. Averell Harriman Democracy Awards to Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas of the Varela Project—a petition to amend the Cuban constitution by collecting more than 10,000 signatures—and to the Organization of American States (OAS). For more information on the Varela Project, see "Documents on Democracy" in the July 2002 issue of the Journal of Democracy.
Opening remarks by NDI president Kenneth Wollack:
Tonight NDI breaks with 14 years of tradition by recognizing two recipients from the same region. This was a deliberate decision by NDI's board of directors. International attention and resources are all too often directed to other parts of the world—both in moments of...