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Iran’s Elections: Leading Through Passion

June 15, 2009

We’ve seen this story before: manipulated or botched elections in which a ruling dictator wins re-election, often several times in succession. The world watches as Iran convulses following disputed election results. It’s unlikely that anything will change, despite supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statement that a senior supervisory body will investigate the allegations of vote-rigging: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will remain in power, continuing to poke his finger in the eye of the United States.

However, what has been unleashed is a powerful fury by Iranians, a proud and intelligent people who are demanding change. But it is also important to note the urban – rural division among Iranians. During his re-election campaign Ahmadinejad poured money into the poor, rural areas, thereby securing much of their support. So what are the ‘real’ election results? We’ll probably never know.

Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, after a 20 year political silence, threw his hat into the election ring. Some argue that not much would change were Mousavi elected as prime minister. But it is instructive to point out his track record of managing Iran’s economy during the 1980s and his guiding the country out of a subsequent recession. He has also stated, in contrast to Ahmadinejad, his willingness to employ diplomatic negotiations with the U.S., as well as disagreeing with hate speech against Jews.

How long the protests, accompanied by beatings by the police, will continue is unclear. But one fact is evident: people will rise up collectively when they want to be heard and to effect change. One important lesson that I have learned through my work on leadership issues is that if you wish to inspire others to act you need to be passionate about your cause. The coming weeks and months will reveal the degree of sustained passion that Iranians possess about their cause. And will this make a difference in Iran in the longer term?

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